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Imagine potato chips without packaging. The role of packaging has changed dramatically over the last decade. Today it is equally important what goes outside packaging as inside. It helps consumers decide whether they will buy the product or not. If the exterior packaging fails to attract the product will fly off the shelf even in the best retail environment. Even if you have a great invention it won’t sell without the right packaging. Yes, packaging is the number one customer grabber.


Integral Part of Society

Packaging is an integral part of our society. It protects, conveys or transports the product. It acts as our product guide. How do we cook it? Do we use microwave? Will it harm my skin? Will I look young and sexy? Packaging is always designed with the consumer in mind. Or to meet a consumer need. Maybelline is an example of exquisite range of product packaging to gain customer attention. Gosling’s Black Seal Rum communicates elegance and upscale personality

Is Packaging Wasteful?

We hear about wasteful packaging. On the contrary packing prevents wastage as without packaging items such as food would be damaged by poor handling, distribution difficulties and lack of hygiene. Packaging also prevents waste by extending shelf life.

What consumers expect from packaging

  • product safety,
  • package integrity
  • easy dispensing
  • ease of handling.

See Video Microsoft designs the iPod package and find out what goes behind designing a successful product.

Forms of Packaging

Broadly the forms of packaging can be classified into three categories: flexible, semi-flexible, or rigid.

Flexible Packaging

  • paper sacks containing dog food
  • plastic bags that hold potato chips
  • paper or plastic sacks to carry home our purchases

Semi-Flexible Packaging

  • paperboard boxes containing cereal and many other food products
  • packaging for small household items
  • many types of toys

For many non-food items, the packaging is made more rigid by packing materials that slip inside the box and hold the product and its accessories or components in place.

Rigid Packaging

  • crates
  • glass bottles
  • metal cans

Packaging Material

Some of the common packaging materials required for day-to-day consumptions in most homes are:

  • Paper and board are the most widely used packaging materials. In terms of weight they account for 43% by weight of all packaging.
  • Plastic packaging accounts for 20% of the weight of all packaging and 53% of all goods are packaged in plastics. Because of its low weight and relative strength, plastic is one of the most energy efficient, robust and economic delivery methods available.
  • Glass accounts for 20% of the weight of all packaging and 10% of all goods are packaged in glass. Glass can be recycled easily.
  • Aluminium is used for packaging of items such as beverage and food cans, foils and laminates.
  • Steel containers are used to package a wide range of products, including food, paint and beverages as well as aerosols.

Main Packaging Functions

Though the main use for packaging is protection of the goods inside, it also provides us with a recognizable logo and design with which one knows instantly what goods are inside. Some of the main functions of packaging are:

  • Physical Protection – Provides protection from, among other things, shock vibration, compression, temperature, etc.
  • Barrier Protection – Provides protection from oxygen, water vapor, dust, etc. Package permeability is a critical factor in design. Some packages contain oxygen absorbers for extended shelf life. Certain packaging helps maintain controlled atmospheres in some food packages. Also helps keep the contents clean, fresh, and safe.
  • Containment or Agglomeration - Small products often need to be grouped together for convenience of handling and efficiency. Packaging also provides containment to products such as liquids and powders.
  • Information Transmission – Offers information on product usage, transport, recycle, or disposal methods on the package or label. With pharmaceutical, food, medical, and chemical products, some types of information are required to be put according to the law.
  • Marketing -The packaging can be designed in such a manner as to encourage potential buyers to purchase the product. Design is very important in influencing customer choice of one product over another.
  • Security - Improved tamper resistance can eliminate tampering and reduce security risks during shipment. Packages can be designed to help reduce pilferage risks. Some packages are pilfer-resistant while others contain pilfering seals. Packages may also provide authentication seals to guarantee genuineness of the products.
  • Convenience - Packages can have features which add convenience in distribution, handling, display, sale, opening, reclosing, use, and reuse.
  • Portion Control -Packaging can be designed for single dosages or made into sizes which match the requirements of different families. It is also aids the control of inventory.

Environmental and Cultural Considerations

Packaging designers need to be responsible and ensure that the packaging does not contribute to deforestation and subsequently to waste pollution. Designers should also be careful that images and text on the packaging are not offensive to any section of the population.

Growth of Green Packaging

Biodegradable polyesters only take weeks to degrade compared to centuries taken by plastics. For this reason more and more industries are using synthetic biodegradable polyesters in flexible and rigid packaging. They are of two varieties:

  • highly amorphous polyesters – flexible and clear
  • semi-crystalline polyesters - rigid

Synthetic biodegradable polyesters are being increasingly used in food packaging. Find details and pictures in Biodegradable Polyesters: Packaging Goes Green

Carton recycling

In Poland carton manufacturers are supporting a scheme to recycle carton packaging waste. They target to make this 3% of total waste collection by end 2007 and 15% by 2015. Giants like Tetra Pak and Etopak are also behind this scheme.

Did You Know?

  • In 2001 UK households produced the equivalent weight of 245 jumbo jets per week in packaging waste.
  • Every year each person produces 4 times as much packaging waste as their luggage allowance on a jumbo jet.
  • Every family in the UK consumes around 330 glass bottles and jars a year.
  • It is not known how long glass takes to break down but it is so long that glass made in the Middle East over 3000 years ago can still be found today.
  • Recycling two bottles saves enough energy to boil water for five cups of tea.
  • Every year, an estimated 17½ billion plastic bags are given away by supermarkets. This is equivalent to over 290 bags for every person in the UK. 17½ billion seconds ago it was the year 1449.
  • We produce and use 20 times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago!
  • Waste oil from nearly 3 million car oil changes in Britain is not collected. If collected properly, this could meet the annual energy needs of 1.5 million people.

What We Can Do To Avoid Packaging Wastes

  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. There is less wastage in bulk packaged items.
  • Go for reusable or recyclable packages. Choose products with containers that can be recycled
  • Avoid excessive packaging
  • Look for items that are available as concentrates or "refills."
  • Instead of "paper or plastic," use a canvas shopping tote or string bag.

What are the Eco-friendly packaging alternatives?

While traditional plastics are derived from petrochemical sources, most biodegradable plastics come from plant sources, particularly corn, potatoes and wheat. “The starch is extracted from the food source, and subjected to microorganisms,causing lactic acid to form long-chain polymers resulting in poly lactyl acid, or PLA, the material used in biodegradable plastics,” explains Zweep. “An example is the ‘corn-tainers’ introduced just over a year ago using Cargill Dow’s cornbased resin.” In addition to biodegradability the packaging comes from renewable resources, reduces pressure on finite petrochemical supplies and creates market opportunities for farmers, entrepreneurs and companies.

What's New on Packaging

Glass and aluminium groups upbeat to meet packaging needs

Production of glass and aluminium packaging within Europe is showing a positive turnaround amidst processor concerns over economic and environmental factors, according to their respective industries associations.

The use of glass in bottles, jars and flacons was up by four per cent in 2007 over the same period the previous year, according to the European Container Glass Federation (FEVE). Read more


  • ‘Green' Packaging is Growing
  • Packaging recycling information sheet
  • A Brief History of Packaging

See Also