Continuum & Preserve Products
Preserve makes toothbrushes out of recycled #5 plastic containers and then takes back those used toothbrushes to recycle into material like plastic lumber and rain barrels. We helped Preserve create a package for the toothbrush that doubles as a prepaid mailer, reinforcing the Preserve mission and increasing the return rate.
Continuum Design Team Preserve Products
We chose this project for its systems approach to conserving material and protecting the environment through a direct appeal to users to modify their behavior. An apparently simple decision could lead to greater appreciation of individual responsibility for change.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
As part of its product offering, Preserve has been making toothbrushes from recycled #5 plastic food containers since 1997. Recently, Preserve asked our design firm to make a package grounded in the Preserve approach that was as unique as the product inside. The Preserve Toothbrush has a handle made from 100% #5 recycled plastics, including recycled yogurt cups, but the toothbrush is not recyclable by communities because it has been used in the mouth. The result of our partnership with Preserve is a package design that is dramatically different than any other on the market, and is designed to help the consumer keep the toothbrush out of the waste stream by returning it to Preserve for special recycling. The lightweight pouch is made of minimal materials, drastically reducing the environmental impact of the resources to make and ship it from manufacturer to retailer to consumer and then back to Preserve. The challenge was to create a package that would maintain the shelf appeal of the previous molded package, effectively communicate the sustainability message of the Mail-Back Pack idea, and be robust enough to tolerate the abuse of the U.S. Postal Service without breaking and spilling its contents. At the same time, the package had to be easy for the consumer to refill and mail, and lightweight and simple enough to be cost-effective to manufacture.
We were very excited to work on this project, as it represented an opportunity to help company that is doing genuine good for the planet.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
Preserve’s registered tagline of “Nothing wasted. Everything gained,” reminds consumers of Preserve’s unique position as a brand marketing more sustainable products.
During this project, we wanted to make sure that we honored the Preserve mission by exploring any possible avenue to expand on both the sustainability story and the story of user-centered design.
The Mail-Back pack, also made from recycled material, protects the toothbrush during shipping, presents it well at point of sale, incorporates a hang tag feature, and doubles as a return envelope. After the consumer is done with it, they put the used toothbrush in the envelope and mail it back to Preserve, so it can begin its next life stage. Preserve then transforms the returned toothbrushes into products like rain barrels and plastic lumber that can be used for products such as picnic tables and decking.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
In developing the Mail-Back Package, we considered the needs of the client, the needs of the consumer, and the needs of the retailer.
For Preserve, we helped create a re-sealable package that would present well at retail, easily communicate its purpose and the Preserve story to a consumer scanning the shelves, and be simple and cost – effective to manufacture using a mix of recycled polypropylene and virgin polyethylene film.
For the consumer, we helped create a compelling story around sustainability that would entice them into buying Preserve toothbrushes and choosing the Mail-Back package (the toothbrush is still offered in the previous generation “travel” package), and made sure that the sustainability message was communicated clearly on the package in a way that is easy to understand in the store.
For the retailer, we created a package that can be easily displayed on either a blow-molded base or hung by its hang tag feature. The Preserve story is prominently featured on the outside of the product and by offering the Preserve toothbrush, the retailer achieves a measure of “Green” credibility in the eyes of its customers.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Our design was informed by the need to make the package easy and inexpensive to manufacture yet robust enough to survive the United States postal system. At the same time, we had to make the package stand out in crowded retail shelves and be big enough to accommodate a large quantity of fairly detailed messaging that is actually meant to be read.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Preserve is one of the few companies in the United States whose products are backed by a solid sustainability story. There’s no “greenwashing” going on here. It makes all of its products from recycled #5 plastics, a material that is rarely recycled by communities. Preserve then gave consumers a way to recycle their #5 containers by creating the Gimme 5 program and placing drop-off points at retailers like Whole Foods Markets, thus helping to establish a material stream and build consumer awareness around sustainability. Now, by creating the Mail-Back Pack, Preserve has given its consumers a way to recycle an undesireable product yet again, keeping it out of the waste stream.
Preserve launched the new package at Whole Foods in January 2010 and at Target on April 21; Earth Day. Consumers are paying attention: Within three weeks of the launch, the package is outselling Preserve’s previous package by 45%.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
Our firm came up with the final, pre-production concept for the Mail-Back Package and Preserve did the final graphic design in-house. In retrospect, we would like to have had more to do with the final design. Specifically, we would have made the package a bit more substantial, and we might have made some different choices with the graphic design, but overall, we’re very happy with our contribution and how Preserve executed the final Mail-Back Pack.