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16 Oct 2016


This week, I wanted to write about something completely different. Obviously, it still has something to do with sustainability and the environment, but more so, it's about design. So last week, I attended a two-day innovation camp organised by my university and two Belgian companies.

My classmates and I were split up into several groups and together with students from a different school, we formed a team. The goal was to find a sustainable solution to a problem involving e-commerce (online shopping). Our given problem was the amount of packaging that's needed to transport online shopping packages. Of course, as you can predict, this was right up my alley!

We started our first day with a bit of teambuilding to get to know each other. After that, our 36 hour-design challenge took off. Discussing the given problem was the first item on our to-do list. Why is the extra packaging needed? Why do these online shopping companies keep putting boxes in boxes? If you order a smartphone on Amazon for example, you'll receive your phone in a small box of your brand, and that box is put into another bigger box by the delivery company. In that bigger box, they put all sorts of bubble wrap or plastic protection material. But is all of this really necessary? What if we could find a way to entirely eliminate the need for a bigger box?

Next, we had a 'silent brainstorm'. At this point, everyone in our team wrote down every single idea that popped into their head, even if it's a tad ridiculous or unrealistic. We quickly had dozens of ideas and after discussing all of them, we chose the concept we wanted to focus on. We were lucky enough that we almost immediately came up with a pretty good, if I say so myself haha.

We then went to the drawing board and drew out our idea. A few experts stopped at our table to give advice. This helped a lot, because it made us realise that we had to make some big changes and fine tune our design.

The next day, it was time to present our concept to the jury. I've also just realised that I haven't told you what exactly we came up with haha. It's not that easy to explain, but here it goes. 

From the start, our goal was to completely eliminate the need for transportation packaging. 

To find a solution to that problem, we had to look at the function of this packaging. As you might be able to guess, it's to protect the product that's inside. But that's not all. The shape of the boxes also makes them perfect to transport and they even have a branding purpose for the companies who send the boxes out. We still wanted to be able to fulfil these three functions, but cut out the cardboard and plastic packaging. And so we designed a modular system of recycled plastic boxes. 

Every module replaces the need for a cardboard box. The size of these modules can vary, depending on the size of the product inside. The sizes are divided by this system (see picture below), making them perfect to stack in containers, trucks, boats and so on.

Okay, that gets the easy transportation function out of the way. But what about protection? The modules/boxes would have to be padded with some kind of foam or expandable air balloons. This way, the product would stay perfectly protected when transported.

The last function (branding) is pretty easy to fulfil. Companies (like Amazon or eBay for example) are able to customise the recycled modules.

Having tackled that, the biggest problem seemed to have been solved. But there's something else. When packages are delivered to someone's house, it's very likely that the customer isn't at home. This results in a waste of fuel and a loss of time and money for the delivery company.
My team and I came up with this next idea: what if we put some kind of station at several places around the country. In this 'station', packages are delivered and stocked. When you want to take your package home, you can just scan your code at the delivery station and the package will come to you. At this point, you open the module and take out your delivered product. The empty module goes back into the station, ready to be picked up by the delivery company.

That's roughly what our idea was. After having presented our concept to the jury, we had a break while the jury decided what teams could go through to the final round. And guess what? Our team, along with five other teams, was selected to go to the final round which immediately took place! 

After our final presentation, the jury asked a few questions and deliberated one more time to pick a winner. We didn't end up winning, but that's totally fine. It was a fun and challenging experience and we were happy enough to have gone through to the final round.

photo's by Vlajo ©
pictures of our concept by my team

I think that just about concludes this chatty post!
Hope you liked it!

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