Gokharu spotlights circular design model with production, usage and disposal

“Old production systems and models are tough to break; so the shift towards circularity won’t be easy; however, we must look at circularity as a philosophy we can imbibe into our design processes,” says Riya Gokharu, senior design researcher and strategist, Quicksand Design Studio and Unbox Cultural Futures, in a conversation with Disha Chakraborty of WhatPackaging?

26 Mar 2024 | By Disha Chakraborty

Riya Gokharu: In India, the reproducibility of packaging design is indispensable due to the country's diversity and varied consumer preferences

Packaging is the first thing consumers see when they reach out for a product, making it crucial to consider materials used, colours and typography as these factors are known to enhance brand awareness and purchase intent. “However, packaging is a problem,” says Riya Gokharu of Quicksand Design Studio and Unbox Cultural Futures.

She clarifies, “It is one of the largest contributors to plastic waste. 91% of plastic is not recycled. Because packaging has such a short shelf life for consumers, we tend to throw it away. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for circular, regenerative and inclusive solutions; and for the transformative, disruptive, and healing power of design.”

Packaging is a visible touchpoint for any brand, representing its values and philosophy. It becomes a validation of a brand’s commitment to sustainability and also becomes a tool to drive behaviour change amongst consumers.

Brand metrics for designing the packaging
Riya Gokharu says, “I think we need to look for design solutions that push forward innovative packaging materials (biodegradable, reusable, recyclable, regenerative); in services offering reusable packaging, or in omitting packaging altogether.” She believes that approaches around reuse and recovery need to be at front and centre while designing packaging - “we need to look at how we can create new value out of discarded or neglected materials that already exist”.

A previous winner of the Make it Circular Challenge in 2023 was Craste, which creates packaging from crop residue using circular fibre technology. Such a solution proves that we can indeed design packaging with circularity in mind with the intention of designing to last, working with nature and using what already exists.

WDCD and Unbox Delhi, pop-up event for Redesign Everything Challenge

Innovation and sustainability 
When asked about how this balance is achieved, Gokharu replies, “Innovations that are quick fixes to problems, often come short on the measure of sustainability because they haven’t considered the systemic implications. For example the waste they may generate or other unintended consequences that may be damaging for the environment.”

She believes the way to balance innovation with sustainability is to embrace the principles of circularity, to go through the rigorous process of evaluating whether the innovation does more harm than good, when measured over a longer time frame, and outside of just the immediate context of use.

Packaging design trends
Gokharu points out that traditionally, India has always been circular in thought and design, from our understanding of ecosystems, waste management, built environments, and farming practices. “Our focus needs to shift to a holistic model that encompasses production, usage and disposal,” she adds.

Her fix includes; “We need to change the way we design; from quick fixes to long-term solutions, from exploiting nature to collaborating with nature, from creating new materials to using what we already have.” She thinks as consumers we are tired of seeing products that you can’t repair.

Later Gokharu talks about the Redesign Everything Challenge which focuses on circularity as the end goal. The challenge is set to witness innovators from every corner of the globe to submit ideas - from products and materials to stories, systems, services, and spaces. The challenge seeks to answer the question: What role can designers and creative entrepreneurs play in the transition to a fair and circular future?

Automation in the design
Gokharu emphasises on the potential areas of automation in the design segment; which include graphic design, packaging design, textile design, 3D design, and data-driven design. She says, “Automation can streamline tasks such as image editing, pattern generation, and 3D visualisation, enhancing efficiency and design quality.”

A good design shall not suffice if it is not reproducible in the packaging form

“In India, the reproducibility of packaging design is indispensable due to the country's diversity and varied consumer preferences. This adaptability will allow designs to resonate across different regions and demographics,” Gokharu tells Disha Chakraborty. She says that reproducibility enhances efficiency and cost-effectiveness in manufacturing, streamlining production processes and reducing waste.

Way forward for the packaging industry in India
Talking about designing in packaging, she emphasises, “Designers can play a significant role in reshaping the climate narrative in India. To drive meaningful change, they must prioritise responsible sustainability, inclusivity, community engagement and open-source collaboration, in a way that also makes space for local, traditional knowledge to inform the design process.”

Riya Gokharu: How do designers incorporate sustainability
In our everyday lives, the challenge that is presented before us is to proactively think about the impact of design. Over the course of various climate action challenges, we have seen examples of how design can address the pressing issue of packaging in today’s times, such as;

Refillable is revolutionising packaging with its doorstep refill service, reducing carbon emissions and eliminating plastic waste. Customers enjoy the convenience and cost savings while brands fulfil sustainability commitments. By leveraging IoT, Refillable aims to establish a widespread zero-waste system.

Bare Necessities is innovating sustainable solutions to waste through ethical sourcing and empowering women. Addressing the lack of alternatives, awareness, and accountability, they offer over 70 eco-friendly options and online courses like Zero Waste in 30. By promoting zero-waste products and education, Bare Necessities is shifting the waste narrative in India, inspiring conscious actions and positive impacts.


Latest Poll

Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?


Which is the sustainable packaging product among MSMEs that is most popular?

Bagasse and biodegradable boxes



Corrugated boxes



Paper bags



Recyclable plastic (bubble wraps, bio-plastic)



Total Votes : 29


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