Packaging, whether it is a food packaging, cosmetics packaging, electronics packaging or packaging of a piece of clothing, it has a purpose why it is there.
Take a moment to memorize the last item you bought. Was it something to eat, to drink, to apply or to wear?
Now that you have the item in your mind, could you tell what impression its packaging brings to you? What image comes first to your mind? Do you think about its safety, design or looks? Or maybe its temporary role as a protector of its contents?
What is similar with different everyday products is that inevitably they come in some sort of packaging. Packaging has many different roles. These include providing protection, safety, enhanced usability, attractive looks, optimal design and specific customer requirements, to name a few. However, what is often perceived with packaging, is single-use purpose. Packaging is there to fulfill its mission – one time only. Either it is pulled off in order to start using the product it holds inside, or it is thrown away as soon as the packaging content runs out. The result is the same. It is there just temporarily.
There is no doubt why packaging waste has become a big global problem. Our single-use culture has radically increased the amount of packaging waste we create by person on a daily, weekly, monthly and annually basis. Plastic, as a packaging material, causes harm to the environment by polluting the natural landscapes, decomposing into tiny microplastics and ending up to the oceans and marine biodiversity. Growing number of businesses, organisations and academy are trying to find renewable and more sustainable replacements for conventional packaging materials that can be fully and safely reused, recycled and decomposed.
Today, the everyday products have short lives but long-lasting impacts. Increasing materials circularity will decrease the amount of single-use packaging and increase the materials’ life cycle.
Next, I list the five most important reasons why packaging is important. Once you have read them, let me know in comments what do you think?
The primary purpose of packaging is to protect its contents from any damage that could happen during transport, handling and storage. Packaging retains the product intact throughout its logistics chain from manufacturer to the end user. It protects the product from humidity, light, heat and other external factors. This is the most important purpose of packaging. Because of that it is not unusual to end up with far more packaging than the actual product. Especially when ordering items from online stores. The amount of packaging waste the product leaves behind can be really staggering. All in all, packaging’s purpose is to protect, but there is a difference between an intelligent and well-designed packaging and a packaging with no fit-to-purpose design.
Above all, packaging has an important role in keeping its contents and consumers safe. Packaging should contain important information of the product and its safety. For example, for food products the packing date, best before date and a list of ingredients must be clearly visible on the packaging. No harmful chemical, smell, or taste should transfer from packaging materials to the food whether it is produced from virgin material or recycled material. Moreover, it must become clear from the packaging if it contains toxic substances. All these pieces of information add the product safety for the consumer. Too much information is always better than no information at all.
Packaging counts an important part of the product brand and marketing. A unique packaging can increase the product attractiveness and thus affect to the willingness to buy the product. Packaging is as important as the product itself. Its purpose is to stand out from the shelf or website, enhance sales, provide relevant information on the product and augment interest. Two thirds of people say that the packaging has an effect on their buying decisions. A packaging can also tell a whole story about the business behind the product and the product’s environmental, social and economical impacts. It is a tool to communicate company’s values and great benefits that the product brings to the consumer.
Consumers are looking for fit-for-purpose packaging. They demand a functional, “life-saver” packaging that is incredibly user-friendly. The usability of the packaging is judged by the consumers only. A packaging which is simple to open and close, easy to fold and sort after usage, and which can be reused or recycled will satisfy some of the consumers’ requirements. In addition, optimal design enhances usability. Today’s trend in packaging usability has been seen to change direction from single-use culture back to buying products in bulk, in reusable packaging and own containers like before 1960s. Environmentally conscious consumers already bring their own empty jars, bags and containers to go to grocery shopping. Thus one big challenge remains in packaging usability. How many times the packaging can be recycled and is it made as simple as the consumer require?
More and more consumers are paying attention to the packaging materials’ carbon footprint, re-usability and recyclability before making their buying decision. In fact how sustainable packaging is perceived, the more positive impact it has to the sales numbers. The packaging design has a crucial role in defining how easy it is to separate the materials from each other and thus how easy the packaging is to reuse and recycle. Making more with less not only saves resources but also leaves less material for the consumer to handle properly.
Consumers are increasingly conscious about the environmental impacts of their actions. They evaluate the carbon footprint of the packaging before buying a product. The labeling on the packaging which gives clear information on the product’s and packaging’s environmental impacts and recyclability, will definitely catch consumer’s eye positively.
Closing the loop in packaging industry
A good packaging is fit-for-purpose, protects its content, saves resources and minimizes its carbon footprint by using energy efficient mode of production and sustainably sourced raw materials. In order to achieve this criteria, we cannot forget the importance of the optimal design, user-friendliness and effective materials cycle to reach the perfect environmentally friendly packaging.
Product packaging has many important functionalities. Now, is all packaging problematic? The answer is pretty clear. No. Packaging is a necessity for a range of different everyday products. Consequently, more innovative, reusable and sustainable packaging are being created every day. That is the current direction. Another direction is bringing your own bags and containers, in other words, reusing what you already have, and buying more products in bulk.
What a diversity of purposes a packaging can have. If you are interested to read more about recycling and waste management, check out my recent blog post here.
After all the packaging and especially plastic waste is an issue. The more you buy, the more you waste. So simple is that. Let’s choose to buy less and embrace the sustainable lifestyle together!