IE University and Tetra Pak, a sustainable packaging solutions company, collaborate to bring Bachelor in Design students a real-life challenge. Read on to learn about the project and students’ experience.

Sustainable Packaging, Sustainable Solutions

The Bachelor in Design at IE University is a comprehensive program created for students looking to design a more sustainable life. Using a project-based methodology, this program places students in the heart of the world of work. 

As part of this methodology, the program has collaborated with Tetra Pak, a leading provider of sustainable packaging solutions. As part of their packaging, Tetra Pak must find viable solutions for their byproduct called PolyAl. These pellets can change the recycled plastic industry, with 20,000 tons generated annually in Spain alone. Students are asked to identify the most suitable end markets to maximize the use of these PolyAl pellets. 

Virginia Rodríguez, head of sustainability for Tetra Pak Iberia, has been working in the company for 20 years. When approached for a collaboration, she knew it would be a good option for both parties involved.

IE University reached out to us looking for opportunities for their students. We are conducting research in various areas, so why not take the opportunity of new ideas of students at such an incredible institution?

Virginia Rodríguez

Our fourth-year students of the Bachelor in Design took to the drawing board. Excited to dive into the challenge, they went above and beyond to bridge the gap between theory and practice. 

An Experience for the Books

Looking to unlock opportunities for the PolyAl pellets, Virginia visited the classrooms at IE University to present students with the challenge brief. Explaining that “this idea has the potential to unlock new markets and maximize the use of PolyAl pellets,” Virginia laid out the challenge, its requirements and the resources provided. 

Ilona Liechtenstein, Mira Gulvady and Mariane Meshaka joined forces to formulate a plan. “Applying our classroom abilities in a practical solution was beneficial, and working with Tetra Pak’s team provided essential industry insights,” explained the team when summarizing their experience. The group walked into the project eager to gain experience, apply their learnings and tackle a large issue with limited resources. “We trusted the process and were able to come up with an appropriate proposal. Our framework provides employees with a methodological approach for more informed decision-making within Tetra Pak by centralizing opportunities and limitations of PolyAI for potential industries.”

Laura Holtslag-Alvarez worked alongside Haya Zaru and Gabrielle Nino to propose a research-based project proposal. The group sought to define an “ecosystem of collaboration between industry, academia, government and civil society in order to make PolyAl the standard material used for the manufacturing and renewal of public infrastructure items used by civil society in public spaces.” 

tetra pak group 1 research

A Learning Curve

Ilona, Mira and Mariane took a unique approach to their challenge. Establishing a tool that helps employees clearly see the opportunities and limitations of using PolyAl in various sectors provided a concise understanding of the material’s value. “The tool offers information on various industries in the Spanish market, outlining their key characteristics, market shares and projected growth.” In order for the students to present this information, they first had to find it.

“One of the main skills we enhanced is the ability to gather information on a subject that is not available in a public domain.” The group spoke with specialists in the field to learn to filter the information they received. “As designers, we will likely work on unfamiliar topics and will have to reach out to other people for information. This project helped us learn to do that.”

Laura and her team had a similar task: “As we proposed a model of collaboration, one of the important factors was finding out how different actors perceived their roles in this process. The main challenge was getting in touch with relevant representatives and conducting interviews.” As part of the process, Laura explains that she was able to develop “a blueprint for collaboration.” She unlocked the critical thinking skills necessary to bring together the information from different representatives to retrieve relevant insights.

The Final Takeaways

Tetra Pak’s commitment to sustainability in the packaging industry is a significant highlight of their work,” explain Ilona, Mira and Mariane

This proactive role in driving positive change shows the importance of environmental consciousness in shaping the future of packing solutions.

Ilona Liechtenstein, Mira Gulvady and Mariane Meshaka

The students feel that this level of consciousness is based in analysis and investigation. “In our group, we are invested in designing in regenerative ways, and we were drawn to Tetra Pak due to our shared commitment to sustainability.”

For Laura, the project opened her understanding of civil society’s involvement: “Industrial manufacturers such as Tetra Pak make products to be used by civil society, but it doesn’t have to end at the moment the product is thrown away. By recycling it back to civil society, in our case in the form of public infrastructure, people can see firsthand the efforts being made to reuse packaging waste. Personally, sustainability is the reason I chose to study design and this project has helped continue to drive my passion.” 

Virginia was incredibly impressed with the students’ work. “The results offered an artistic perspective and I found them to be interesting and effective. It was obvious that the students took their work seriously, as it was clearly reflected in the results.”