Dear Mr Albert Heijn. . .

Yesterday I wanted to throw away an empty packaging of tissues, bought at Albert Heijn (no.1 supermarket chain in the Netherlands, known for a good sustainability strategy). As it is made of single-ply cardboard, I flattened it to put in the paper bin. Then my eye was caught by something shiny. I tore the packaging open and discovered that there is a window in the packaging, covered with a plastic foil.

I never noticed this window before! The tiny window is only 10 x 32 mm and the plastic foil that is glued to the inside of the packaging is not smaller than 206 x 74 mm!

The tissue box of Albert Heijn has a large plastic foil glued to the inside of the box to cover the tiny window.

The tissue box of Albert Heijn has a large plastic foil glued to the inside of the box to cover the tiny window, making it unsuitable for paper recycling.

Adding plastics to a paper based packaging makes it unsuitable for paper recycling. Paper recyclers have a tough job getting a clean material stream of paper only for further processing into new papers. Designers should keep this in mind when making packaging.

I can imagine that the following happened: someone, let’s call him or her ‘Marketeer’, at Albert Heijn or at the packaging manufacturing company, identified a consumer need: ‘User’ must see that the packaging is almost empty. So User can buy a new one in time.

The tiny window in the tissue box.

The user should be able to see how much tissues are in the tissue box.

Marketeer asked ‘Designer’ to create a window for this purpose. Which was done within a day, much to the delight of Marketeer. Then ‘Quality Manager’ looked at it and pointed out the likeliness of the inside getting dirty during storage and distribution. So Designer had to cover the window. Designer was glad that Quality Manager had not seen the other whole in the packaging, at the tear off strip where User puts his finger in to tear out the piece of cardboard. He/she thought of a small piece of plastic for this purpose. Then Production Manager saw the tiny peace of plastic and decided it is impossible to handle this in the manufacturing process, so he had the dimensions increased just ‘a little bit’.

Fit for paper recycling?

The tissue box of Albert Heijn even has a symbol on it saying it is suitable for paper recycling. This puzzles me most.

The result is a totally unsustainable product with a feature that is of little use. Dear Mr Albert Heijn, if you really want to have a window in this packaging, will you please consider either leaving away the plastic foil or creating a tear off strip that the user can tear from the cardboard packaging, might he or she decide that it is totally necessary to see what is still inside the box? So that the packaging is made of a mono material and is ready for paper recycling? While you are at it, maybe you can also consider to make the whole packaging without using any glues?

If you need any help, I will be more than happy to think with you…


Written by Jop Timmers

Jop is the founder of Design for Good, experienced product designer, innovation manager, author, sustainability expert, was trained as a C2C design consultant in 2009 and was a part time product design teacher for 9 years. He is passionate about sustainable and social innovation.

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  1. Hi Jop,

    Great read cause this article made me laugh too, especially how you have described the ‘marketeer-designer’ process, sooo familiar.

    I also like your solution because it’s a simple way to make the packaging fully sustainable and therefore recyclable, still including the feature for those who want to use it! Now that’s what I call smart creativity!

    I really hope ‘Mr. Albert Heijn’ will read this post ;-P – Thanks for sharing, Cheers & Ciao ..

  2. maybe a different kind of color tissue at the bottom, so people know the box is nearly empty?

    kind regards,

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