Nancy Pagé, VIU Graphic Design Professor, posed a question to the students in her third-year Package Studio class: Is product packaging nothing but beautiful garbage? Then, she issued a challenge—redesign an existing product’s packaging so it is more ecologically responsible.

Each student chose one product, and their resulting creations are now on display during Unwrapped, the new exhibit at The View Gallery, located in Building 330 at the Nanaimo campus.

“Designers have a chance to make an impact in the way a product is packaged, reused, and eventually recycled,” Pagé said. She noted that students need to work through a multitude of challenges to harmonize the need of containing, protecting, and displaying a product and minimizing environmental impact.

One of the students featured in the exhibit, Chantelle Calitz, chose to redesign a Cafe Plus Coffee Syrups gift set. The original design includes four plastic bottles in a large box with a clear plastic insert in the front so people can see the syrups.

Calitz initially grappled with the idea of creating seaweed pouches for the syrup because they are 100 percent biodegradable, tasteless, and odorless. Since syrup is so sticky, she thought it might be too messy and went with milk cartons instead. The cartons can be recycled and fit snugly inside a small cardboard tray.

“Instead of encasing everything in a big cardboard box that used a lot of materials and was environmentally irresponsible, I chose to make the bottles be the only packaging you really need,” she said.

Consumers can make an impact. “Right now, when you go to a store you are bombarded with a million different products. You have a choice to pick something that is a bit more environmentally friendly. I would encourage people to pursue that,” said Calitz.

Rebecca Hanelt, who is also displaying her work at Unwrapped, agrees that consumers have the power to make a difference. Hanelt is passionate about the environment and practices conscious consumption in her daily life, only buying items from vintage stores and thrift shops. Over the last year, she hasn’t purchased any items made from new materials.

“Just be super conscious of when you’re buying products and know it does make an impact. You are one person, but it can make a huge difference if you keep on with it,” she said.

Hanelt redesigned a Juicy Couture product. She wanted to show that you could create a design that was environmentally conscious while still maintaining the high-end branding. She says the opportunity to showcase her product that she worked so hard on during the art exhibit is an “awesome experience.”

Unwrapped, sponsored by ARC Document Solutions, runs until December 1. The View Gallery is open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 4:00 pm.