Photo courtesy of John Liu. Photo has been cropped and lightened.

Exploring a Different Way to Package Eggs

This recipe for disaster calls for one palette of eggs.

Earlier today, I thought it would be a great idea to buy a palette of 30 eggs at Berkeley Bowl. But when I left with two more full bags of groceries, I realized I’d probably made a mistake. No matter. I’d simply hold the bags in one hand and balance the palette in the other. I’d waiter the shit out of that palette.

It took about 2 minutes of me trying to balance the eggs to give up and place them, sideways, into one of my bags. The whole way home I kept looking nervously at them as I watched one egg after another slide out of its place. I hoped for the best, but expected the worst.

Luckily, just one egg broke. But the whole thing got me thinking about how eggs are packaged. I thought about how much paper goes into making egg cartons. I wondered whether or not paper egg cartons are recyclable (they still aren’t in some places.) I thought about plastic and styrofoam egg cartons. It occurred to me that I’d never encountered an egg carton that felt environmentally friendly.

Designing a more eco-friendly egg carton

What are the requirements for an eco-friendly egg carton? I had no experience designing packaging so I went off a few basic truths:

  1. Eggs need to be sufficiently restricted in 3 planes of motion.
  2. The carton should protect the eggs from outside forces.
  3. The carton should use minimal materials. This meant no glue if possible.

With these goals in mind, I started brainstorming some carton ideas. I drew inspiration from legos, which I knew secured adjacent pieces using 3 points of contact. I considered trying something in a hexagonal or triangular shape so that boxes could be stacked more efficiently. I soon realized I’d be pretty limited by what I could do with a few pieces of cardboard and an Xacto knife. The hexagonal ideas quickly went out the window and were replaced by single-piece-of-cardboard ones.

I had no idea what I was doing

Making an egg carton out of a repurposed cereal box.

The design I ultimately mocked up relies on, at any given point, somewhere between 3 and 5 points of contact to keep an egg in place. The box is designed to hold 3 eggs and is constructed from a single piece of cardboard (in this case, a box of Special K.)

I started by trimming the loose edges off the box. Knowing vaguely that triangles are pretty solid shapes for structures, I folded the box into 3. I then began cutting what would become the side supports for the eggs across one crease. As I cut strips out of the cardboard, I folded them into the hollow space in the carton. Once I’d done this for all six spots, I stuck a few eggs into the box to test out the fit. As you can see in the rightmost photo above, there was a bit of extra length on the bottom, which turned out to be pretty lucky, since the folds in the support pieces had some springiness and caused the box to tend outward. I used the extra bit of cardboard to fashion tabs and slots to stop this from happening.

The prototype

Concluding Thoughts

In that I made an egg carton that reasonably protected 6 eggs using just the cardboard from one box of Special K, I think I succeeded in meeting the goals I set at the start of this project.

A single piece of cardboard. Objects for scale.

When I interacted with the box, though, I noticed a pretty important flaw in my design. I failed to consider that people regularly open and close egg cartons to insert and remove eggs. With my design, it was possible but definitely not easy to do that. I thought of two possible solutions to this issue:

  1. One of the edges along the top could be perforated for easy removal of eggs.
  2. The whole box could be flipped upside down and designed to stand with the pointed side down.

There are many ways to design an egg carton, and this is just one of them. Coming to a resource-conserving design could have a pretty big impact on how such a ubiquitous product affects the environment.