How to Solve Problems with Secondary-Use Packaging

In 1960, a man named Alfred Heineken had a revelation: Why not turn packaging waste into a something that can be used to alleviate homelessness around the world? Yes, it was that Heineken. And yes, they were large beer bottles designed to become building blocks for low-cost housing.

So, what if your packaging could have a permanent second use. Or just a temporary second use. It’s a useful exercise to imagine potential new uses—and new consumer value—even if it does not seem practical at first.

Some of the greatest products of all time started with a different original purpose. After all, there was a Frisbee Pie Pan Company before there was a toy.

Packages that are designed for secondary uses send a clear message to the users. That message is that the brand is thinking of them and their needs, and is going the extra mile to make life easier for them.

One common secondary use of packaging is in the hardware department, where packages become storage trays for parts or screws. One airplane parts company recently took that attitude to another level, creating thermoformed trays that held each individual part of a complex repair kit in place. The package was not for long-term storage, as all the parts were to be used during the kit’s installation.

Instead, the packaging served several purposes. First, the packaging presented a digestible overview of the project ahead. Second, it made clear what parts were still to be used, so the user could track progress. And finally, the packaging gave the user confidence that the kit was installed properly when there were no parts left over, or the unused parts were properly identified as not applicable.


A few years ago, Bounty® developed a package that “converted” into a paper towel dispenser after opening. The user simply started unrolling the roll and reclosed the package. The protective package keeps the unused paper towels clean and prevents them from unrolling in an unruly work environment.

In another case study, a design team was tasked with designing a unique package for PrismaColor® art products. The previous package lacked the visibility to inspect the products as well as the added functionality to store the products securely during use and between uses. The team redesigned the previous chipboard “easel” design for increased functionality with a thermoformed clamshell easel. The design does double-duty with built-in snaps that keep the pack shut and secure, but they can be easily unsnapped to allow the front flap to fold behind the pencils and snap again to create the sturdy easel feature.


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