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Study highlights packaging’s place in society

A study that examines the environmental impact of packaging balanced against its essential functions and provides hard evidence on the last century's progress in designing more "resource efficient" packs has been published by Pira International and the University of Brighton.

The “Packaging’s Place in Society” study was undertaken as part of the Biffaward Programme on Sustainable Resource Use, with funding by Biffaward and financial support from Valpak, the Packaging Federation and Amcor Flexibles.

The study’s Executive Summary stresses that while consumer choice has increased – there were 40,000 product lines in supermarkets in 2002 compared with 2000 in the 1960s – and “more choice means more packaging”, packaging “almost always has a small environmental impact compared to the product it contains”. It cites examples showing that most products are not “overpackaged” and argues that under-packaging causes product damage and significant wastage.

The report draws on case studies to “highlight the realities of the relationship between packaging, the supply chain and the public’s needs”. More single-person households, the British penchant for ready meals, longer working hours and changing logistics chains are among key drivers to have impacted on packaging design in the last 50 years.

Catfood packaging is one of several examples use to show that packs have become more “resource efficient”, with the growing preference for dried rather than moist foods having reduced the average weight of packaging required to pack a cat’s daily food requirement falling from 71 to 46g between 1993 and 2002.

Packaging Federation ceo Ian Dent adds: “Our industry has defended itself against “overpackaging” charges for years, but studies like this put weight behind the rhetoric. The study’s publication is especially timely given pressures from socialist and Green MPs like the EU’s Rapporrteur on packaging waste, Dorette Corbey, who has called for packaging environmental indicators, a kind of scoring system which could one day see every new pack rated on its environmental impact. This could stifle innovation, while it is naïve to believe that one can evaluate the complex interaction between a product and its packaging so simplistically.”