5 minute read

Magic-Packaging™ is all the physical stuff (boxes etc) we use to get architectural lighting from our production line to your project site. 


100% Recycled cardboard packaging, with Factorylux logo cut into the box
Like regular packaging, it transforms irregular shapes into simple cuboids for the logistics of palletisation, trucks, shipping containers and protects them on their journey.

But our closed-loop Circular Economy approach means it has to do a lot more than that. We assess the life cycle of all materials that exit our factory, not just the products.

✔️ All boxes and inserts (internal cardboard parts) are made for your specific order by our Magic-Packaging™ robot, for minimum volume / weight. No ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

✔️ It’s all made from 100% paper (specifically from trees). Most of the paper we use is 100% recycled and all of it is 100% recyclable. *excludes a biodegradable (potato-starch) waterproof pallet wrap.

Factorylux staff packing an all paper, no plastics pallet for an architectural lighting order

One-way ticket 

With very occasional exceptions, the projects we serve are not local to us. They’re often in a different country or even continent.

Closed loop methodology, like the returnable glass milk bottles in the UK or 'Mehrweg' (reusable) part of Germany's amazing 'Pfand' can / bottle deposit scheme, is not an option 😭. Storing packaging for a product’s entire life is not practical or sensible and the carbon footprint of sending the empty packaging back would be far greater than that of recycling them locally. Magic-Packaging™ has to be designed for a one-way trip.

Re-useable milk bottles on a stone step
It needs to be big and strong (product protection) but also small and light (efficient transport). Most importantly, when its job is done it has to be reusable according to closed-loop Circular Economy principles. This basically means ‘easily reusable today, right now’ not ‘theoretically reusable’. That's why we keep it 100% paper, it's ideal for easy recycling with near zero waste.

Factorylux circular economy lighting Track-Pipe in all paper packaging with zero plastics 

All that glitters is not good

The Magic-Packaging™ aesthetic is neutral, brown tones, because nature only offers tree fibres in these colourways 😁. We print using ink only, no metallic foils, glitters or plastic elements like spot varnishes and laminates. They’re eye-catching but unhelpful to the paper recycling process because they make it more difficult to recover pure fibres for the ‘noodle’ (a wonderful term, explained later).
Even worse, once the composite mass of unrecoverable junk has been separated, it has to go somewhere - easy to forget that nothing ever disappears 😬. According to the laws of science, physical 'stuff' can only either a) stay the same or b) become something different. What began life as ‘eye catching’ packaging details, ultimately breaks down to its fundamental (normally toxic) chemistry and enters humans or the environment as gases, liquids or solids (landfill, waste water or incineration). Yes, it’s that grim. 

  “Everything is designed for you to throw away when you are finished with it. But where is 'away'? Of course, 'away' does not really exist. 'Away' has gone away.” 

- Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle

Factorylux black anodised sustainable spotlights in all recycled paper packaging 

Paper trail

If you know anything about Factorylux, you probably already assumed Magic-Packaging™ is 100% paper-based. What you might not have realised is that as well as the obvious components such as boxes, inserts, void-fill, wraps, tapes, labels and stickers, it includes less obvious stuff like pallet deck, pallet feet and even the pallet strapping (yes, pallet strapping can be 100% paper ).
All paper pallet strapping for circular economy lighting shipping
In practical terms, it means everything we ship, that isn’t product, can be folded by hand and go directly into your conventional paper recycling stream.
The materials side of Magic-Packaging™ is a no-brainer. Paper and card are relatively inexpensive and paper-based packaging components that were difficult or impossible to source earlier in our career (we often had to make them ourselves) are now readily available.
But Magic-Packaging™ is about so much more than paper packaging. 

  “It's not a principle until it costs you money”

- Bill Bernbach (advertising exec) 1911-1982

Sustainable architectural lighting packed in 100% paper packaging on a recycled paper pallet with paper strapping

So what is exactly wrong with plastics?

Plastics are everywhere because they’re irresistible to manufacturers and have been since 1862, when Alexander Parkes discovered them.
  • Number of plastic variants = very high
  • Cost of producing plastics = very low  
Unfortunately, the upsides are also the downsides. In the make-believe world of corporate super-polluters like Coca-Cola, plastic is easy to recycle (as they spend millions reminding us). In the real world it's very difficult because the cost of sorting by variant is very high (7 different types are published as 'SPI codes' by the Society of the Plastics Industry) and the commercial value of doing this is very low (as evidenced by Coke themselves, who use 90% new plastic instead [¹] 🤔 ).

Plastic waste is harmful to humans and the environment which, due to the realities of recycling it, is where much of it ends up. The purchase price of plastic is artificially low because this true cost (ie. dealing with plastic waste) is not included. If it was, we would not be discussing alternatives here, they’d already exist.

The ‘Single Use Carrier Bag Charge’ (became UK law in 2015) lead to a 94% decrease in usage by 2023 [²] and an uptick in alternative (ie. non-plastic) packaging innovation. It’s very limited in scope and ambition but still proof, if any were needed, that government regulation is the only way to achieve change. We (and others) are doing great work at proving what’s possible and we’re growing, but we are tiny compared to the architectural lighting corporations. No way can we do this alone.
View from Stoodley Pike memorial statue, near the Factorylux closed-loop lighting factory

Making paper

Understanding the nitty gritty how paper recycling works might seem a bit forensic, but it's absolutely what initiated and informed the development of Magic-Packaging™. When packaging is designed for it, an excellent level of circularity is easily achievable because the infrastructure and technology is already well-established. Paper recycling is low hanging fruit in modern industrial economies where there is very little such fruit at all.
The circularity of paper is limited only by the fibre lengths used to make it, which get a little shorter and weaker each time they’re processed. They’re good, on average, for 6X reuse. That’s pretty damn circular for a natural material.
Paper is amazing stuff with a long history. Working out how to make it better, cheaper and faster has preoccupied humankind for thousands of years. All kinds of stuff was used - papyrus, animal skins, silk, hemp, cotton and more - until the 19th century when Charles Fenerty nailed the art of pulping tree fibres and the Fourdriniers achieved the same with paper making machinery. It became the inexpensive commodity we know and love today.
A circular economy alternative to regular lighting track in recycled paper packaging
The basic method for converting wood into paper uses water, heat, chemicals and mechanical processes to separate tree’s outer bark, inner lignin and inner cellulose fibres. They’re formed into a wet, fibrous mush (the ‘noodle’) which is pressed, rolled, dried and cut into the paper sheets.

‘Cardboard’ or ‘board’ is just paper sheet that’s engineered in a secondary process to achieve mechanical properties, such as stiffness and crush resistance. It’s high-volume, low-density and relatively expensive to transport, which is one reason why the factories that make it are so geographically distributed - they’re everywhere.

Paper manufacturers have been recycling paper since long before it was cool. Adding ‘used’ paper in the ‘new’ paper process is relatively straightforward and delivers immediate, valuable cost savings (reduced energy, time, ingredients, etc). Here in the UK more than ±80% of paper is already recycled (compared to less than ±10% of plastic) and don't forget, this is on commercial incentives alone. Imagine what a little bit of well-considered legislation could achieve 🤯.
 Factorylux MD Sophie Gollop with circular economy lighting track in all paper packaging

Here come the robots

Paper is a really beautiful material to work with. It’s absolutely consistent and easily cut with a blade. At the heart of Magic-Packaging™ is our revolutionary Magic-Packaging™ Robot, which is technology that we adapted from the hot air balloon industry (was used to cut fabric panels).
It’s lightweight, fast, with an intuitive interface and can cut or crease any 2d vector paths (.ai, .dxf, .dwg, etc) created in any drawing program. We buy ‘new’ 4m² cardboard sheets direct from one of three local cardboard factory / recycling plants located within 25 miles of the Factorylux factory.
The first cardboard cartons (late 1800’s) used complex tooling to ‘stamp’ the cut and crease lines from sheet material. Conceptually, not a lot has changed to box manufacturing by today. It’s a high-volume, centralised approach to manufacturing that achieves a low unit cost at the point of manufacture.

In reality some of that cost is just pushed downstream in the form of waste and inflexibility. Firstly, it causes architectural lighting manufacturers to carry excessive stock of packaging and secondly, it causes suboptimal shipments (light fixtures can and do ship in a box that’s a little too big, but not one that’s too small).
Recycled paper packaging cut by Magic-Packaging robotic cutting machine
The Magic-Packaging™ Robot turns this on its head, it democratises the design and manufacture of packaging by using a highly efficient CAD / CAM / CNC process. Production is easily relocated from external supplier to point of use, for example inside our lighting factory. This is ‘lean manufacturing’ at its best, embodying the ‘Just-In-Time’ and 'Kaizen' principles (continuous improvement) of the Toyota Production System for manufacturing.
Instead of investing in packaging that’s optimised for manufacturer convenience and a low ‘buy price’, it created a platform on which we could develop Magic-Packaging™, which is optimised for closed-loop Circular Economy. We got rid of plastic completely, gave end-users simple, guaranteed, reusability for all packaging materials and we ship less air and less packaging material, which means fewer tyres on the road 🚚  🎉.

But most importantly, it has revolutionised the sophistication of what we can produce. If it can be drawn in CAD, it can be made - triangular prism shaped boxes, for example, are almost never seen in the wild (even Toblerone went plastic on smaller bars!) because their geometry is incompatible with the traditional, highly centralised, stamp/glue process, but they’re definitely part of Magic-Packaging™ 

Architectural lighting in triangular boxes, optimised to reduce space and shipping, made from 100% recycled paper

Anatomy of a Magic-Packaging Robot™

  • Long, wide, flat air-permeable conveyor (4000mm x 2000mm) with 4Kw vacuum pump to ‘suck’ cardboard sheet to belt surface. 
  • Horizontal beam (X axis) travels up/down conveyor length. Moving tool holder (Y axis) travels up/down beam length / conveyor width. Moving tools (Z axis) travels up/down beam height 
  • Tools: oscillating (3Khz) cutting blade, crease wheel, pen holder (holds any regular pen or pencil). 
  • Control software accepts any translated 2D vector path (.ai, .dxf, .dwg, etc) to position any tool tip on any XYZ path or point co-ordinates, with a high degree of speed and precision. 
The robot is simple to use, reliable and, in our use case, it repaid capital expenditure within 5 years. More importantly, it’s what enabled us design, develop and launch Magic-Packaging™, an important milestone in our work on closed-loop Circular Economy. 
Silhouette of Magic-Packaging against a wall at the Factorylux factory
  • [*¹] : 'Going round in circles: Coca-Cola’s trail of broken promises'
  • Author: Talking Trash
  • Ref: TalkingTrash_CocaCola
  • © Changing Markets Foundation 2020
Download the report (free)
  • [*²] : 'Plastic bags - the Single Use Carrier Bag Charge'
  • Author: Nikki Sutherland
  • Ref: CBP7241, 19 October 2020
  • © House Of Commons Library

Download the report (free)

The essays:


1 - Introduction 

  • What's it all about

2 - Closed-loop Circular Economy 

  • The how and why of our manufacturing methodology.

3 - Stone-Rumbled™ 

  • The most sustainable surface finish ever - explained.

4 - Make-Unmake™ 

  • Single-materials are what make a closed-loop possible.

5 - Magic-Packaging™ (you are here!)

  • Measure everything that leaves a factory, not just the product.

6 - Magic-Paint™

  • Don't read this if you want to continue using regular paint.

7 - Factorylux Mission

  • Why we exist. Where we are going.