Portland, Ore. — Some well-known documentaries have looked at the challenges of plastic and packaging waste in the environment. Think about the BBC's Blue Planet II or The Story of Plastic. But few have examined the problem through the professional lens of the packaging and product designer — until now.
A team of Canadian designers funded by an organization of packaging producers are out with a documentary called Unwrapping — or by its French name, Tout Déballer — that aims to do that.
The professionally produced 54-minute documentary, available in both French and English on the film's website and YouTube, explores the role packaging designers play in looking for solutions to the environmental problems that come from single-use packaging.
In part, the film is asking whether we as consumers need all the packaging that's in the marketplace. But the organizers also said they aim to present a nuanced look at packaging, calling it something "we love to hate despite needing it."
To that end, the film examines the benefits of packaging, like protecting and preserving products, and asks the audience to envision a world without packaging, as it also explores problems with recycling materials like plastic wrapping, multilayer potato chip bags and polystyrene.
"One of the messages we want to say is that design is a bit more complex than you think it is," said Geneviève Dionne, one of the creators of the documentary and the director of ecodesign and circular economy at Eco Enterprises Quebec, which paid for the film.
Dionne spoke in an interview at the Product Stewardship Institute's 2023 U.S. Product Stewardship Forum Sept. 11-14 in Portland, where the English-language version was unveiled.
Her employer, EEQ, is financing the film as an outgrowth of its work administering the money that container makers and packaging companies pay into Quebec's extended producer responsibility program to support curbside recycling. Those companies want the film to build awareness.
Dionne worked on the project with co-lead Sylvain Allard, who is head of the School of Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal and the main on-camera narrator.