How do you change an industry standard? You start small, case by case. Or, you create a tool that can do that for you, capable of evaluating many cases at a time, which is the route the Toy Association and Disney decided to take. Disney developed their own internal packaging tool years ago, debuting the tool's first product with the release of a Moana doll in packaging that could be simply separated for recycling. Using Disney's expertise through a partnership, the Toy Association developed a packaging design tool to improve the environmental performance of toy packaging in ways that are measurable, visible, and optimized for both on-shelf and e-commerce performance.
Disney's SmartPacking Initiative Tool's interface.
"Most packages are currently not optimized for sustainability or the consumer experience," says Toy Association's Sr. Vice President of Technical Affairs, Alan Kaufman. Citing many elements of e-commerce, in-store retail consumers, and the decades-long war between parents and thick, dangerous plastic packaging—known as "Wrapper Rage" and the "Christmas Morning Effect"—it's clear that toys, traditionally packaged for shelf presence, though increasingly sold online, must be packaged more sustainably to meet consumer demands.
Disney's user flow for their Smart Packaging Initiative Scoring System patent.
Disney's system flow for their Smart Packaging Initiative Scoring System patent.
Designed as a tool for companies to create packaging solutions that lower production costs and limit environmental damage, the SmartPackaging Initiative Design Tool encourages designers to continue to deliver their products to all consumers safely and effectively—without destroying the planet.
The platform allows Toy Association members to input data regarding product type, packaging dimensions, and material information. After reviewing the "design for environment" answers, the tool assesses all information and measures the design's carbon footprint, material health, design efficiency, and recyclability.
Smart Packaging Tool user flow, as outlined by the Toy Association.
Each design receives a score, composed of three categories: 60% Responsible Sourcing, 30% Design for Recycling, and 10% Resource Optimization. Users are able to compare how they rank with the industry norm for similar products and packaging. As more members utilize the tool, the database will grow. "The nice thing about the tool is that it not only enables you to find out what the impact is of your particular packaging choices, it also allows you to do 'what if?' exercises," says Kaufman. "You can create multiple designs and compare them, allowing designers and manufacturers the information as they decide which design to pursue."
Dolls packaged to optimize shelf presence, utilizing excessive plastic window boxes whose elements cannot be easily separated for recycling.
Until now, many small design teams struggled to obtain resources that measure sustainability on their own. With most Toy Association members being small or medium enterprises, "Providing the tool for the industry at large was something that we felt would benefit all the industry, but particularly our small and medium-sized members who do not have the bandwidth to do these calculations on their own," says Kaufman.
The tool allows users to compare designs within each of their projects, assisting them in choosing the most sustainable packaging option for each particular product.
The tool also provides specific suggestions for how to improve scores. For instance, increasing the certified, recycled, or bio-content of materials will improve the Responsibly Sourcing portion of the weighted score. Design choices that optimize material recovery in recycling systems and simple designs that use fewer materials increase the Design for Recycling score. To increase Resource Optimization, users can reduce the master carton size through nesting.
While the Smart Packaging Initiative Design Tool is currently only available to Toy Association members, the Association is striving to open the tool to non-members in the near future. In the meantime, the Toy Association plans to add the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to its forces with Disney, aiming to combine material libraries and regularly update their tool as new material innovations and recycling processes develop, growing the platform in a way that could be beneficial to packaging across all industries.