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
Mono-material Magic-Packaging™ 

Boxing Match

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
Sustainable lighting track in Magic-Packaging™

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 'Pfand' container 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

Reusable milk bottles are still a common sight here in Yorkshire

It needs to be big and strong (maximum 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. That's why we keep it 100% paper, it's ideal for easy reuse with near zero waste.

Factorylux circular economy lighting Track-Pipe in all paper packaging with zero plasticsProtective inserts on Track-Pipe® reusable lighting track

All that glitters is not good

The Magic-Packaging™ aesthetic is neutral, brown tones, because we only work with mono-materials and nature only makes 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 turn the paper into a multi-material, making it more difficult to recover pure fibres for the ‘noodle’ (a wonderful term, explained later). Even worse, once this composite mass of unrecoverable chemical junk has been separated, it can’t be reused and has to go somewhere (landfill, incineration or the ocean) it's easy to forget that nothing ever disappears 😬.

Physical 'stuff' can only either a) stay the same or b) become something different - it's the the laws of science. What began life as ‘eye catching’ packaging 'innovation’, ultimately breaks down to its fundamental (normally toxic) chemistry and enters the environment as gases, liquids or solids. Yes, it’s that simple / 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 packagingSkin+Bones™ Budget range spotlights ready to ship in Magic-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. 
 All paper pallet strapping for circular economy lighting shipping 
Magic-Packaging™ pallet strap is 100% paper 🙌

In practical terms, it means everything we ship, that isn’t product, can be folded down by hand and placed into any regular post-consumer 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

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

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 low purchase price of plastic is artificially so because this true cost (ie. dealing with plastic waste) is not included. To help address this, the ‘Single Use Carrier Bag Charge’ became UK law in 2015.

It lead to a 94% decrease in usage by 2023 [²] and triggered an uptick in alternative (ie. non-plastic) packaging innovation. It’s 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're a tiny dot in the global lighting industry, no way can we do this alone.

View from Stoodley Pike memorial statue, near the Factorylux closed-loop lighting factory

View from the hills above our factory -  we go here to escape plastic 😆

Making paper

Getting in to the nitty gritty of how paper recycling works is what initiated and informed the development of Magic-Packaging™. The necessary reprocessing infrastructure and technology is already well-established and when packaging is properly designed for it, 6X reuse is easily achievable (it’s limited only by the fibre lengths, which get a little shorter and weaker each time they’re processed). Paper recycling could hardly be simpler or more efficient.

History Lesson

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. Papyrus, animal skins, silk, hemp, cotton and more - all kinds of materials were used and experimented with, until the 19th century when Charles Fenerty nailed the art of pulping tree fibres and the Fourdriniers achieved the same with paper making machinery. 

A circular economy alternative to regular lighting track in recycled paper packaging

Tessellation for the nation 

The basic method for converting wood into paper uses water, heat, simple chemistry 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 using a secondary process, such as corrugation or layering, to achieve specific mechanical properties, such as stiffness and crush resistance. Most cardboard contains a lot of air so it's high-volume, low-density and relatively expensive to transport, which is one reason why the infrastructure for making it is so geographically distributed - paper factories are everywhere.

Paper manufacturers have been recycling paper since long before it was cool. Adding ‘used’ paper into 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). Well-crafted legislation could easily achieve the remainder.

Factorylux MD Sophie Gollop with circular economy lighting track in all paper packagingPallets for shipping can also be 100% paper

Here come the robots

Paper is a beautiful material to work with. It’s consistent and cuts easily with a blade. At the heart of Magic-Packaging™ is our revolutionary Magic-Packaging™ Robot, which is technology we adapted from the hot air balloon industry (it was previously used to cut fabric panels).
It’s lightweight, fast 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 our manufacturing HQ.
Traditionally, cardboard cartons are made by stamping cut and crease lines to the sheet material. The mechanical tooling, to make these lines in a single pass, was invented in the late 1800’s and conceptually, not a lot has changed to box manufacturing since.

It’s a centralised approach to manufacturing that incentivises the production of high volumes of standard size cartons, meaning objects tend to ship in boxes that are a little too big (they can't ship in one that’s too small). Low unit cost at the point of manufacture is traded for downstream inefficiencies in the form of waste and inflexibility.
 Recycled paper packaging cut by Magic-Packaging robotic cutting machine
Magic-Packaging™ production area
The Magic-Packaging™ Robot turns this on its head, it democratises the design and manufacture of packaging using a CAD / CAM / CNC process. With no tooling, packaging production can be relocated to point of use. This is ‘lean manufacturing', it led to us a) getting rid of plastic completely and b) shipping less air and less packaging materials, which means fewer tyres on the road 🚚.

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

Magic-Packaging™ makes new packaging geometry possible

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
 Silhouettes in the Magic-Packaging™ production area 

  • [*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)

Our stories:


1 - About us 

  • How we got started.

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™ 

  • Mono-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.