Michelle R McGuire
Brand Strategist

Pet Food Packaging

Circular Design Project


Do You Want the Short Version?

The Problem: Pet food packaging ends up in a landfill 99% of the time

The Process: Change the status quo of pet food packaging by changing the packaging (create a new use for pet food packaging to extend its life) and changing the cycle (develop a new circular or low waste model for pet owners to receive their pet food)

The Solution: We designed a new system for Petco’s WholeHearted food 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.

WholeHearted Logo.png

Or the Long Version?


The current life cycle of a polypropylene pet food bag ends in a landfill 99% of the time. It’s filling our landfills and clogging our oceans. And on top of that, consumers aren’t even happy with the current packaging. They find it difficult to store and hard to carry. There’s an opportunity to rethink the entire life cycle of pet food packaging.



  • Pet store visits and 1x1 interviews with employees

  • Survey for pet owners about pet food packaging

  • Secondary research (category, polypropylene, existing solutions, etc.)

  • Solution testing

  • User testing


Reimagine pet food packaging to make the pet owner happier and the environment healthier.

Why Petco?

We focused on Petco’s WholeHearted line of pet food because Petco is primed to lead innovation in pet food. It is the second top pet retailer in the US, has an existing rewards program to incentivize pet owners, and is open to unconventional dispensing methods (as seen in their kitty litter and pet treats).


First, the bags….


We wanted to design a new way to reuse polypropylene packaging to delay its inevitable destination: the landfill. The new WholeHearted “Let’s Eat” product line offers a variety of customizable dog food bowls and storage containers made entirely from polypropylene.

How This Works

  1. Pet owners return any WholeHearted pet food bags to any Petco location

  2. For every 10 bags received, pet owners get a free bag of food.

  3. The pet food bags are repurposed into a Petco line under WholeHearted as “Let’s Eat.”

….Then the entire cycle.


We replaced the existing space in Petco’s store layout taken up by WholeHearted pet food bags with gravity dispensers with screens. Pet owners purchasing food put in their number tied to their Pals Rewards or new customers can use any identifying number to pay for food. Food is dispensed using the application interface on the screen that is attached to the tube into a container


Petco will offer a line of special containers made from polypropylene that clip into the tubes. The food is dispensed into the container and never needs to be transferred to another container. The container addresses several of the pain points we found through our survey: heavy bags, cumbersome transportation, and moving the food from the bag to a separate container.


How This Works (In-Store)

  1. Pet owners can receive a bin for free after 8 WholeHearted pet food bags are returned or receive a discount to purchase the bin. 

  2. Pet owners use rollable bins to receive food at a new Petco WholeHearted food station. (Bonus: Samples!)

  3. When pet owners need a refill, they repeat the process.


What Happens if Pet Owners Forget Their Container at Home or Order Online?

With a 50 cent deposit, Petco offers a sealed polypropylene pet food tote. The tote can be returned via pre-paid postage or dropped off at the store.

How This Works (Online)

  1. Pet owners can receive a bin for free after 8 WholeHearted pet food bags are returned or receive a discount to purchase the bin. 

  2. Pet owners pay a $0.50 deposit to receive WholeHearted food in reusable totes.

  3. Pet food is then dispensed from the totes into the storage container.

  4. Pet owners can return totes to Petco locations or send them back after requesting pre-paid return packaging. 

  5. When they need a refill, they repeat the process. 

Why Our Solution Works

I know what you’re thinking, what’s in it for Petco to do all of this for their WholeHearted food line? With this solution, Petco can:

  • Lead pet food innovation. This new system has the potential to be tested and implemented across numerous brands in Petco beyond WholeHearted.

  • Improve their customer experience. Pet owners think the current process isn’t great. This new solution addresses their main pain points of cumbersome transport, transferring it to a new container, and being unable to reseal a bag.

  • Cut pet food costs. While the new solution costs money up front, it will slash pet food packaging costs in the long run.

  • Improve brand perception. Consumers like when brands care. This new circular solution reinforces Petco’s love of the environment and upgrades their in-store experience.

Our solution leads to happier customers, a healthier environment, and a better Petco.

Reflection Time


I LOVE the intersection of strategy and design. This circular design project allowed me to flex my strategic muscles in a different way and let me just say, I want more!

My Role

  • Built, fielded, and analyzed a survey

  • Completed in-store research, 1x1 interviews, and secondary research

  • Collaborated with teammates to ideate and test solutions

  • Helped develop and present a deck on our solutions

Fun Fact

While our solution may not be real (yet), TerraCycle is a great way you can recycle your pet food bags today!

Team Members

Louis Boehling (Experience Designer) and Kelsey Cowan (Experience Designer)