Designer Aaron Mickelson’s Disappearing Package project has found ways to use products to convey all the information and protection we expect from packaging.

Glad garbage bags.

Tide PODs.

Tide PODs.

OXO Pop containers.

Twinnings tea.



What It Would Look Like If Tide, Glad, and Nivea Ditched Product Packaging

The Disappearing Package imagines a solution to our trash problem, by incorporating packaging into products themselves.

Think about the last product you purchased. It probably came in a lot of excess packaging. But why does packaging have to exist? In some situations it’s necessary for hygiene purposes, certainly, but designer Aaron Mickelson believes that it’s possible to remove all traces of packaging waste from certain products.

As part of his master’s thesis at Pratt University, dubbed the Disappearing Package, Mickelson created physical prototypes of waste-free packaging solutions for five popular products—Nivea bar soap, Twining’s tea bags, Tide laundry detergent (specifically Tide PODs), OXO POP containers, and Glad garbage bags. "I hope, at the end of the day, I have shown that sustainability can still be beautiful. I leave that up to my audience to decide," Mickelson told Wired.

In real life, Tide’s single use laundry PODs come in plastic bags. Mickelson’s solution: PODs stitched together into a perforated sheet that contains all the product information. The PODs can be torn off and put in the washing machine, where the packaging dissolves. And voila, no waste.

The Nivea soap packaging is also dissolvable. Instead of putting the soap in a heavy carton, Mickelson created a water-soluble box that acts like regular paper until it hits water, at which point it dissolves.

Glad’s existing kitchen bags come in a box that contains a roll of bags. In Mickelson’s world, the bags are sold without the box; they’re pulled out from the center one by one until only the last bag remains. All product information is printed on the last bag—the one that holds all the others together.

The only problem is that each bag is a piece of plastic waste that needs to be thrown away—no dissolving plastic bags here. Nonetheless, Mickelson has taken a huge leap in the right direction.

Dissolvable and disappearing packaging for items that go in trash bins and washing machines is probably palatable to most people, but biomedical engineer David Edwards takes the concept a step further with edible packaging for food products. Check it out here.

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  • Radiqaluk

    I would be interested in what the sources of the 'soluble' packaging would be eg cornstarch, and at what point the 'non-food use' of these agricultural resources becomes a problem to feeding the growing population? 

  • Me

    I love these ideas. The garbage bags is particularly awesome for how absolutely simple the idea is, and how truly easily it could be implemented. It would probably cost manufacturers less to simply print onto a bag than it currently does to print out a whole box.

  • Cant_find_a_name_that_works

    I agree with some of the previous comments:  Dissolving packaging is not the same as no packaging (as was promised in the title of the article.)  I'll bet there are a lot of other products from which boxes could be removed, though, for example single-serving instant soups (some companies already do this) or breakfast cereal.  Not sure whether we can keep up, though, with all those other single-serving products coming along, like little packages of apple slices or cheese and crackers.

  • Vanessa

    Great article, it is crazy to think we have so many options when it comes to the brands we choose but none when it comes to the packaging the products we consume come in. Another company that has tried to change the amount of garbage from packaging produced is Ecologic Brands: they make compostable and recyclable packaging using molded fiber.

  • David

    Some nice ideas there. Although I'm never convinced by new fangled ways of packaging tea. Circles, pyramids, recycled tags, individual sachets – it's all unnecessary packaging. Remember when tea tasted good and didn't come in a pointless bag filled with floor sweepings? Buy leaf tea like granny used to! Changing buying habits is surely the way to make companies take a look at wasteful packaging. You might enjoy your brew a bit more as well.


  • AnnaMoody

    I'd like to see in-house drums filled with Tide, glade etc. Re-usable bags that dispense 5kg's etc. The soap bars can be wrapped in bio degradable waxed paper and the bags can be on rolls dispensing 30 / 60 / 90 bags ready rolled, branded rubber bands for securing the roll.
    I never have understood why companies don't find more minimal ways to supply their goods in supermarkets. It can't be that difficult....surely we should be buying products because they're good not because they're in shiny impressive packaging.......

  • Eric_Schultz

    I love the thinking...and that is what a Thesis is all about. Not all ideas need to be fully baked to be good ideas. Sure there are potential issues but if we stop trying because of all the "what ifs" most good ideas will never be great!

    Innovation is a process of multiple failures. If we stop failing, we stop innovating. Thanks Aaron for literally thinking outside the box, bag and pod and putting your thinking out there!

    You looking for a job?

  • Barry Wang

    I would argue that the 'what if' it gets wet is a pretty big one. In fact central to whether this idea is a good one or not. If this packaging can't protect the product, then what is it's purpose exactly? Solely to communicate?

    The problem is that packaging doesn't just function in a single place (i.e on the shelf). The product has a lifecycle and packaging has to move the product through it. To ignore this and only focus on one aspect is not good packaging design.

  • Charity

    I'd be interested to see the cost of this new type of packaging. These are very cool ideas but we can't expect businesses to change their packaging if it causes their costs to go up too much. Especially in this economy!

  • Monna Morton

    Great concept, especially the trash bags, but I do agree with "fish in the sea" what happens to all that dissolve matter, and what does it do to the natural aquatic environment.  Also, what about moisture control, if the product gets damp or there is some failure in a stores climate control what happens to the product?

  • Barry Wang

    The Tide concept is a neat idea, but what happens if the products get wet during transportation? Either from factory to warehouse, warehouse to store, or from store to home? What's to stop the packaging starting to break down and spill it's contents everywhere when I carry it home on a rainy day?

  • fish_in_the_sea

    All that disolved packaging will put a huge COD / BOD load on the natural aquatic environment -- and what about the fish swimming around in a soup of disolved containers ?