Packaging is constantly evolving to meet changing social, economic and environmental needs. One such need is to service a growing world population. More mouths to feed usually means more packaging required. On the other hand, packaging acts to reduce the sickness and disease that is often associated with non-packaged food in less well-developed countries and, indeed, saves food waste.
People, certainly in the more industrialised nations, are also eating healthier food today than ever before. Packaging use reflects these consumption patterns.
Canadians are also living longer. So today’s packaging has to reflect the need for seniors to read labels and nutritional and health information without difficulty. Sometimes this requires a larger package than may seem necessary. Other factors are at play. There are more single-parent households (family breakups) these days. This, and economic pressures for two-parent families to earn income outside the home, have led to a rise in the use of single-service or so-called disposable packaging. When people don’t have the time to prepare meals like they used to, they opt for convenient pre-packaged food.
In recent years, extra packaging has sometimes been required to counter pilfering and to make it tamper-proof. As a direct result of eight people dying from cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules in Chicago in 1982, tamper-proof packaging for most over-the-counter drugs became common.
Quality expectations are a lot higher too. Retailers point to the dented cans or damaged packaging left on the grocery shelves at the end of the day. There’s probably nothing wrong with the contents but the perception is that the product inside is now second-best or contaminated.
Much is made of current moves to reduce the weight of packaging and the number of layers required; what the packaging industry calls “thin-walling” or “light-weighting.” In fact, this reduction at source has been going on for decades. (See the Factsheet “Making do with Less”).
Landfill digs in the Toronto area confirm the shift from heavier to lighter packaging. The heavy wire-bound wooden crate has given way to the lighter recyclable corrugated container. What used to come loose in corrugated containers now often comes in thinner lightweight boxboard packaging all ready for sale. If packagers don’t adapt to changing social, economic and environmental needs they don’t survive.