Circular Packaging Design

To change the status quo of pet food packaging, we had to change the packaging system itself by developing a new low impact, circular model product that would be easily integrated in Petco stores. 

My Role: Strategy, Product Ideation, Visual Design & User Testing


Pet food bags aren’t made out of just any plastic, they’re made out of polypropylene. While this material is durable and low cost, it's challenging to recycle. According to the American Chemistry Council, polypropylene is one of the least recycled post-consumer plastics, at a rate below 1% for post-consumer recovery. The amount of waste produced by plastics like polypropylene is becoming an increasingly large problem as the material fills landfills and clogs our oceans. Pet owners are forced to go through this one-use, linear process with their dog food bags. 


The amount of plastics is killing our environment and on top of that, pet owners aren’t even happy with the current dog food packaging. We found that there’s an opportunity to rethink the entire life cycle of pet food packaging.


A Zero-Waste Solution


Our team designed a new system for Petco’s WholeHearted food line by recycling existing pet food bags into a “Let’s Eat” product line and eliminating the need for future bags by creating a zero-waste way of distributing WholeHearted food. We broke this down in two phases.


Reimagine pet food packaging to make the pet owner happier and

the environment healthier.

Phase 1

We wanted to design a new way to reuse polypropylene dog food packaging and delay these plastics going to landfills. We decided Petco's WholeHearted dog food brand would be best for our new product innovation, “Let’s Eat” because they are already on trend by including all natural ingredients. In addition, “Let’s Eat” offers a variety of customizable dog food bowls and storage containers.

How This Works


Pet owners return any WholeHearted pet food bags to any Petco location. For every 10 bags received, pet owners get a free bag of food. The pet food bags are repurposed into a Petco line under WholeHearted as “Let’s Eat.”

Phase 2 

We replaced the existing space in Petco’s store layout taken up by WholeHearted pet food bags with gravity dispensers with screens. Pet owners will wheel their cart to the dispensers and clip in their empty WholeHeart food carts into the tubes. Before dispensing the dog food, they can choose the amount of food and look up ingredient facts on screens attached to the tubes. 

How This Works

Pet owners can receive a bin for free after 8 WholeHearted pet food bags are returned. Pet owners use rollable bins to receive food at a new Petco WholeHearted food station. When pet owners need to refill, they repeat the circular design process. 

A Simple Interface

Pet owners can dispense food by using the interface on the screens attached to the tube. They can select various weights to fill their bin as well as learn more about the products. 

How We Did It

Re​search & Discovery

It all started with a trip to pet stores. We went to local pet stores in Richmond, VA like Dogma, Petco, and Dog Krazy and asked employees about the current pet food process. What did consumers like about pet food? Did they even notice the packaging? Did they ask about recycling? We let the conversation flow.

Survey Results

We gathered our notes and built a survey. We collected data from 55+ pet owners and found that they don’t like pet food packaging because it’s not resealable, difficult to store, hard to carry, and they don’t even know if it’s recyclable or not.


We tested our solution with pet owners by walking them through the user journey. We asked them to note any pain points that they saw in our system. Though testing, we found that people really gravitated towards the customization of the "Let's Eat" line and the new store dispensing experience with their pets. 

The original user journey is in red and our new user journey is in blue. Note the deltas in the search process, transportation and transfer. These show that our solution makes the pet food purchasing process a positive experience that is also eco-friendly. 


Our first round of brainstorming included making pet food packaging into building materials for developing countries or for dog parks. But after thinking through this, we decided the solution should be something more easily incorporated into the existing cycle.


Our first testable solution went BIG! It was all about an entirely new and complicated pressurized distribution system built into a room at Petco that can serve up any pet food on demand via a user interface. Pet owners would use a bin made out of polypropylene to use the system. 


We quickly realized this was too expensive and complicated. How would Petco pay for this? Why would pet food brands want to be a part of this? We then narrowed our thinking down to Petco’s own WholeHearted food line. This let us experiment more with Petco’s rewards program and existing pet food systems.


Kelsey Cowan, Experience Designer 

Louis Boehling, Experience Designer

Michelle McGuire, Strategist