The world of reality competition shows has a new participant: a program with designers aiming to use sustainable materials in the packaging industry.

Zachary Weston, a senior packaging systems and design major in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, recently appeared on the YouTube show, “Pack It! The Packaging Recycling Design Challenge.” The show challenges two contestants to design and create eco-friendly solutions to real-world packaging problems.

Weston and fellow contestant Emma Dayton, a student at Michigan State University, were tasked by show host Cassie Stephens to design and create packaging for a produce subscription box. Raspberries, cucumbers, lettuce, cilantro, dragon fruit, and even a pointy pineapple had to be preserved – and protected through a drop test – in an attractive and user-friendly package.

Weston, a student in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, spent the summer as a design intern for Pratt Industries, a corrugated packaging company in Richmond. He talked about his experiences on camera, the spirit of collaboration that connects people in the packaging industry, and the importance of remembering ventilation for produce.

How did you end up on this show?

Our program has an email list for packaging students, and we’re sent all sorts of helpful resources such as internship opportunities or extracurricular activities. Last year, they sent out a casting call from the Paper and Packaging Board for a show they were going to film this spring. I had to submit a video and pictures of a few of my designs. That’s how I was selected.

What were some of the highlights of your experience?

The crew was great. They made it very easy and comfortable for us to do our work. It was a funny experience doing package design with a hair and makeup team on standby. I’d be in the middle of doing something and they'd say “stop” and adjust my hair, brush my face, or straighten my clothes. They were constantly working to make sure we looked good in every shot.

What do you wish you had done differently?

I wish I had put vent holes in my box. Emma made the same mistake, and we both realized it after we were finished. It’s one of the first things you learn in packaging, but somehow it slipped both our minds.

A funny coincidence is that one of the first packages I ever designed in this major was a fully ventilated shipper for dragon fruit, a project that my professor, Eduardo Molina, has new packaging students do every year.

I guess that I was so shocked running into a produce box – on a film set, nonetheless – that ventilation completely slipped my mind. I hope he's not disappointed.

A group of people gather for a photograph on a television set.
Zachary Weston (from row, at left) sits with the cast and crew of “Pack It!” Photo courtesy of the Paper and Packaging Board.

At the close of the episode, Emma said that she’s excited that you’ll both be working in the packaging field and that you’ll each be a force to be reckoned with. Is this type of comradery common in the field?

It’s definitely the case in packaging. Between designers, the field is not so much about trying to pull the rug out from under the competition, but how everyone can work together to find and create more sustainable solutions.

Right now, we’re on the top of a large movement in the field to go toward sustainable, ecological solutions, and everyone wants to make that happen.

What motivates you as a packaging major?

When I design, I want to create things that have an impact, that make the world a better place, and packaging lets me do that.

Companies are hiring people who can innovate, who can think harder about the challenges of nonrecyclable single-use plastic and come up with clever designs to limit plastics going into landfills. With packaging, I can create beautiful designs while helping the environment.

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