First of all, packaging serves a function: to protect the goods that are packed. To protect from humidity, micro-organisms, light, contaminations, impacts, etc., or to enhance conservation thanks to specific conditions that can be fixed inside the package.
Then, packaging can have other functions as attracting consumers, displaying information on the product, or allowing brand recognition.
Packaging is useful. If the goods have to be discarded because the packaging is not well designed, then goods and packaging have just used resources and generated waste along all the manufacturing and distribution chain without creating any value.
The core function of the packaging, namely protection, is usually insured by a set of protective items: individual packaged items are put in a bag of several ones, this bag is put with other bags in a box, several boxes are on a pallet, and this pallet is wrapped with plastic film.
When considering packaging, we should take into account the all the different elements and not only the primary packaging.
Packaging is made of various materials, cardboard, plastic, aluminum or other metals, wood (mainly for pallets but some can be plastic-based), and also multilayer materials…
Plastic is widely used for packaging due to its lightweight and its versatility. It can be molded in various forms, and has various resistance depending on its thickness on the type of polymer used. It can be associated with other components in multilayer materials to obtain the targeted properties. It seems to be a magical material!
Nevertheless, as seen in Module 8 – Towards a plastic-free tourism, plastic has quite negative impacts on the environment. Less than 15% of the plastic packaging used is collected for recycling, and only 9% is actually recycled, while a third is left in fragile ecosystems, and 40% ends up in landfill.
Recycling is not the best option. It is an option that has to be improved to be efficient when no other better solution is possible.
According to the World Economic Forum, plastic packaging waste represents a loss of USD 80 to 120 billion loss to the global economy every year.
Moving towards a circular economy – where we not only use less packaging but design the packaging we use so it can be reused, recycled or composted – will mean less plastic in the environment and will contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goal.