At Christmas, everyone needs boxes and tins. In fact, all through the year, we need storage. Yet we throw out un-useful packaging boxes that have to be recycled. And then we buy more boxes and containers for packaging.
Recycling is expensive, and it uses energy and produces waste during collection and reclamation.
Through the years, and in times when Americans were not so flush with cash, we reused packaging, and manufacturers helped immensely. And life was richer for it. Examples? Cigar boxes for trading cards and collections. Coffee cans for paint and nails. Shoe boxes for everything. Straw-wrapped wine bottles for candles. Clorox bottles for boat bailers. Hat boxes. Oyster cans. Tobacco tins. Nabisco cracker tins. Newspaper fish wrap. Welch’s jelly jars as kid-friendly drinking glasses. Mail order orange and fruit boxes for anything, but particularly for holiday decorations.
Today, there are plenty of examples, but not as many. Coffee scoops do come inside coffee cans. Christmas wreaths from Maine come packed in cardboard boxes that are perfect for ornaments. Lazzoroni Amaretti cookies come in handsome tins. A large number of spaghetti sauce makers sell sauce in Ball canning jars that can be reused for canning. All good.
My two favorites?
- Armour Dried Beef jars. I love this stuff to make creamed chipped beef (no one else in the house does). After use, the container becomes a juice glass that is nearly unbreakable. It has stars along the top that give it away as Armour.
- Butterball and other sliced meats like Hillshire Farms Deli Select are sold in re-usable containers, the latter in Glad branded containers.
The key element to it is that you need a product where you can invest a SLIGHT bit of cost into the packaging, and the added cost will be balanced out by increased customer happiness, free advertising and greater ease of distribution. To do it though, companies need to be slightly flexible. For instance, watches come in odd boxes that are large, but in weird sizes. What if they came in boxes that could be used for jewelry? Or electronics were packaged in more standardized boxes.
What other opportunities are there for businesses?
- Store gift boxes. Today, store gift boxes are cheap, and they fold. Upgrading to a sturdy box that opens easily (no folding, removable lid) might cost a bit extra, but it will live for decades in closets. If cost is an issue, make a nominal cost for the boxes. It will save staff time on gift wrap, too. This works best when your brand has snob appeal; I have Brooks Brothers boxes that have lived for decades.
- Toys. The crush packs and boxes of Made in China toys are frightening. Perhaps toys could in better, lidded boxes, so they might be stacked on shelves more easily. There is no reason Mr. Potato Head should come in a fold-top box.
- Coat hangers. High end dress shops routinely give out dresses and suits with plastic hangars. Yet today, wooden hangers are cheap. Stores should upgrade to wood, and these hangers will last for decades as permanent ads (and memories) in closets. Pictured here, Shulman & Co. of Norfolk, Alexander-Beegle of Virginia Beach and Beecroft & Bull of Virginia.
- Grocery packaging. While I would love to figure out an easy way to reuse water bottles, I am afraid there is no hope there. But perhaps more cookies and cakes could come in tins, if not all the time, at least at holiday time and on special product anniversaries.
Any other thoughts?