Practically every material item that we bring into our lives is contained in some form of packaging. This packaging may be natural, like with eggs or coconuts, or it may have been engineered and designed specifically with the product in mind. Packaging serves a range of purposes, all valid, and all with the potential to be sustainable.
Packaging is used to protect an item in transit and during the packing phase as it is made ready for loading and despatch. The handling of a product as it moves from a production line to haulier can involve a series of robust manual transactions, many of which are automated, and the item needs to be protected as it is lifted, and from the possibility of being dropped. As the product is shipped to its destination it may be subjected to vigorous activity or abrupt temperature changes and every effort is made, by way of packaging technology, to ensure that the product is not adversely affected.
Traditionally, packaging may have been a wooden crate, before giving way to the versatile cardboard box. Since consumer items are now expected to travel greater distances and spend longer periods in storage, packaging has been developed to withstand the wear and tear of transit and the inhospitable conditions involved in warehousing. Plastic and polystyrene packaging is now commonly used to meet the demands imposed by global consumerism.
Packaging has become an everyday part of our lives, providing a valuable marketing medium for branding and essential product related information. The shape, colour and overall concept of the packaging is used to convey a message to the consumer regarding the suitability of the product and the lifestyle related benefits of the brand. Due to constraints enforced by the economies of time and manufacturing within a global marketplace, brand oriented packaging has evolved from a range of elaborate, sustainable painted tins and ornate, crafted glassware into a diverse collection of mass-produced plastic cartons and bottles.
The increasing use of plastic in everyday packaging of consumer goods has significantly impacted on our environment. The constant remanufacturing of plastic cartons from oil derived compounds contributes significantly towards the carbon emissions responsible for global warming. Pollution from single use plastic has fouled our oceans, affecting wildlife and damaging our fragile eco-system.Increasing global awareness and pressure from concerned consumers has contributed towards businesses and manufacturers reconsidering their ethical policies in the face of the current global climate crisis. Innovative packaging designers have risen to the challenge of developing packaging solutions that meet the brief of protecting a product from environmental and transport related damage using sustainable practices and materials, while satisfactorily representing the product image.
There now a concerted drive towards using packaging that is made from recycled materials. Paper and carboard are being extensively used, incorporating clever designs that protect the product but may also be recycled or composted when no longer usable. Paper and card pouches and sachets provide a simple, handheld solution for lightweight goods while more robust boxes are being used with structural ribbed features that give added strength to prevent crumpling while incorporating internal enclosures for smaller, loosely packed parts and accessories. Cardboard is a much lighter material than plastic, saving on transport costs and the environmental impact of fuel usage. Ecofox have replaced plastic bubble wrapping and Styrofoam packing nuts with recycled card packing, processed in house, to prevent products from moving inside the carton during transit.
Many supermarkets have responded to customer pressure and now limit the amount of packaging used, selling loose fruit, vegetables and cereals, with the larger brands exerting their influence over other high street businesses. Revised thinking has promoted the development of bioplastics, innovative polymers manufactured using natural, sustainable materials. Plastic is a hydrocarbon which can be derived from vegetable-based starches, commonly found in cereal crops and more recently, bamboo. These processes are developing as the demand for completely biodegradable plastic increases, providing cheap, workable alternatives to single-use packaging.
Many parts of the consumer industry appear to be taking note of the demands for more eco-friendly packaging and have responded with an innovative drive towards cleaner, more socially responsible practices. The opportunity to incorporate personalised branding has encouraged many businesses to make their own mark in the drive towards a more sustainable future. As we continue to ask for change in the consumer market then suppliers and manufacturers have no option but to modify their wasteful working practices, contributing to the challenge of tackling climate change.