The compact På(fyll) containers stack neatly for both storage and transportation.
Designing for Circular Consumer Goods Packaging
Four Nordic firms have collaborated to develop a novel form of reusable/refillable consumer packaging, combined with a circular order/return service that is meant to minimize the waste generated by single-use plastic packaging.
The firms call the system På(fyll) –– which translates to “pour fill” –– and Swedish design firm Form Us With Love (FUWL) officially launched it in early September at Stockholm Design Week. Its three Norwegian partners in the project are consumer brands conglomerate Orkla ASA, strategic innovation consultancy Æra and Bakken & Bæck AS. Fast Company magazine recently named the project a finalist in its 2023 Innovation by Design Awards.
På(fyll), an app-based subscription service for Orkla’s household products, uses a series of utilitarian, minimally branded, compact plastic containers that can be stacked and refilled over and over. Users of the service purchase products online. Once they exhaust the product and want a refill, they scan a QR code on the side of the container, leave the empty containers outside their residence, and wait for them to be exchanged for full ones.
FUWL Design Manager Karin Blomberg
Karin Blomberg, design manager for Form Us With Love, told Tightly Packed that the concept is being tested initially on a trial basis in the Swedish market. She noted that the containers are currently molded out of HDPE but future plans call for them to be made from recycled HDPE captured from used containers, thereby closing the loop.
FUWL –– an international design studio founded in 2005 –– did extensive market research over the past two years, including with the IKEA retail giant, to determine the optimum size and shape of the containers, which are stackable and come with a variety of nozzle options, to allow them to efficiently dispense liquids and even powders of various viscosities. Initially, the containers hold only Orkla products, but the parties suggest they could eventually also hold goods from other companies.
Designing for circularity
“We uncovered a lot of insights in the differences between traditional fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) packaging and containers made for a circular order/return service,” Blomberg said. Traditional packaging involves a number of compromises in volume, weight, shelf appeal, etc. “This packaging needed to be easy to ship, easy to grip, easy to store, easy to pour, and easy to clean.”
While traditional containers may compete on aesthetics and brand features, the containers for På(fyll) must prioritize functionality and usability. Blomberg said that FUWL had to ensure the containers would function well with the existing infrastructure of filling sites, while also meeting the needs of users, transport companies, and the responsibility of Orkla, for cleaning and refilling the containers.
The problem, notes FUWL, is that the European Union produces some 26 million tons of plastic waste every year –– 70 percent of which is sent to landfill. This is equivalent to dumping at least one garbage truck’s worth of plastic waste into the ocean every minute of every day.
På(fyll), it says, “challenges the current norm of fast-moving consumer goods packaged in single-use containers and dispensers.”
FUWL designed a number of caps to handle different types of contents and user needs.
The partners launched the project with the broader aim of addressing and actively promoting a more sustainable future by reducing plastic waste across the supply chain. Their goal was to build a digital platform and provide a circular, accessible subscription model for households, in an efficient reuse and refill service.
The challenge for Form Us With Love was in the design of a durable and versatile container that could hold various brands’ products, including liquids of different viscosities. The design process drew inspiration from existing solutions, such as jerrycans, stackable objects like bricks, and user-friendly designs such as book spines.
An intentional hole in the cap allows users to tie together empty containers, facilitating easy handling.
The container design aims to minimize spillage while also simplifying the pouring process. The cap, notes FUWL, “features a perforation, allowing users to tie together empty containers, facilitating easy handling for both users and transport companies during return. The design factored in grip strength, ease of use for all ages, and the balance between sturdiness and lightweight construction.”
The På(fyll) containers come in 1- and 2-liter sizes, with interchangeable caps and spouts.
A sophisticated digital platform
But this project extended well beyond just convenient, durable packaging. There is also a digital aspect that needs to work seamlessly and efficiently for all involved. The digital platform needed a frictionless interface to complete a variety of actions – ranging from address look-up, pick-up and drop-off logistics, shipment tracking and scheduling. FUWL says that På(fyll) optimizes transportation by collaborating with its transport provider, Heltjem. This allows it to encourage smart order bundling, thereby reducing the number of shipments and hence delivery costs.
The partners claim that this new, circular service “empowers customers to make environmentally conscious choices by reducing their reliance on single-use plastics. By offering a convenient digital platform, På(fyll) enables customers to order and receive freshly filled containers directly to their doorstep. The QR code tracking system ensures transparency and accountability throughout the container’s journey, from warehouse to delivery.”
The partners in early 2022 launched a beta version of På(fyll) involving 100 households in Norway, and now plans to scale up to a broader market.
The containers are precisely designed and molded to fit neatly and efficiently together.
“The success of På(fyll),” states FUWL, “is a result of collaboration among experts from various fields, including market understanding, branding, industrial design, strategy, and engineering. The combination of expertise ensured that all aspects of the project were carefully considered and addressed, leading to a sustainable, user-friendly, and impactful solution to the plastic waste problem.”