The Dieline Conference: 3 Takeaways


Sarah Howley and Mike Guite, designers at ULTRA, attended this year's HOW/Dieline Conference in Chicago. In a pivot away from previous years, the conference focused solely on sustainable package design to shift conventional conversations, challenge assumptions and provide un-ignorable and inspiring innovation in the category.

They walked away with a new perspective about how to think about sustainable packaging, an understanding of the full implication that plastic has, inspiration from brands pioneering the change, and a directive to become more knowledgeable about sustainable packaging.



Plastic is a key aspect to packaging today, and in appropriate uses it can help protect against disease, extend expiration, and create accessibility for the disabled. By and large, however, it's used for convenience and that convenience is adding up:

· 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute

· Just 9% of plastic was recycled in 2017, and only 2% was reused

· 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, 50% of which is single use

· 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year

· 40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded

There are several initiatives focused on plastic-free packaging, all largely influenced by the efforts of A Plastic Planet. They've partnered with businesses to help them achieve plastic-free existences, The Dieline to launch the first ever plastic-free packaging award, and opened the first plastic-free grocery store, of which now there are several. They also launched the world's first #oneplasticfreeday, which took place this year on June 5th. A handful of Ultralites joined the movement by not only giving up one plastic free item for the day, but challenging themselves to go plastic free for an entire day. You can read more about the choices and challenges it posed here.



While it's difficult to hear about the devastating impact plastic and packaging can have on the environment and our health, it's inspiring and motivating to see the innovators paving a sustainable path and sharing their knowledge. Here are a few options if you are trying to think around plastic and waste issues with your packaging:

· Create reusable options. Loop is an online shopping store that delivers products in reusable containers. Think Haagen Dazs ice cream and Dove deodorant - once consumed at home, schedule a pick up. 

· Return to long-term materials like steel and ceramic. By Humankind offers a range of products in containers made of materials that will hold up for life - all you do is reorder quantities to refill.

· Collaborate with other businesses to pioneer innovative solutions. Starbucks and McDonalds, while coffee competitors, have teamed up to build a fully recyclable, compostable cup of the future within the next three years, including not just the cup itself, but a lid and straw too.

· Rethink how liquids and beverages are packaged. At the London Marathon this year, plastic water bottles were replaced with water Ooho water pods. These biodegradable pods are made of seaweed and are edible. 

· Look into biodegradable products. Cove is the first single use water bottle to be completely biodegradable. The bottle is made of naturally occurring biopolymer and the label is made of paper, non-toxic inks, and non-toxic glue.

· Create edible materials for the wildlife impacted by waste. When we hear edible packaging we often think of humans, but what about the wildlife that are impacted by the waste? Saltwater Brewery made an edible 6-pack ring for its beer that can be consumed by any animal that comes in contact with the ring.

· Where you can go without packaging, go without or create value-added packaging. Hinoki cosmetics uses paper packaging for its products - a far cry from the oft-used plastic in this category - and Lush cosmetics brands go without packaging at all, creating liquid items like shampoo and conditioner in bar forms instead.



Sarah and Mike walked away with a directive for change, but also excited at the opportunity package designers and brands have in front of them. After sharing their experience and collaborating with others internally, Ultra is on a mission to educate ourselves and share what we're discovering. We'll be calling it The Sustainability Series, and comprehensive content will come out once a month for the next year. Expect reports back from recycling and composting site visits, interviews with clients and designers on challenges to being sustainably minded, resources and contacts to help build a more sustainable product, and insights in to the green consumers who are desperate for plastic and waste-free alternative packaging.