There is an essential paradox with packaging. It serves the vital purpose of protecting goods bought by a consumer, yet that same person sees packaging as wasteful. No matter that it is easy to rationalise plastic packaging’s key function, as soon as it is removed from the product, emotion takes over and people see the packaging as superfluous, a nuisance that must be disposed of, even if it is recycled.
Packaging companies’ response to this dilemma is usually to point out the environmental advantages of a new pack. But more effective promotion could be done by the industry acting as a unified whole, repeatedly stressing the advantages of plastics. A good example of this more proactive approach is a recent study in Germany by the GVM market research institute.
The study looked at progress made in the efficiency of plastics packaging comparing how packaging was made in Germany in 1991 and in 2013, and finding that in 1991 3.715 million tonnes was used compared to 2.76 million tonnes of plastic in 2013. The IK trade body points out that lightweighting of German plastic packaging has taken place over the past 20 years even as demands made on the packaging from customers, consumers and regulators have increased.
More of these sort of in-depth studies are needed to reiterate the many benefits – environmental and functional – that plastics packaging can offer. Yet more examples of these benefits are shown in our article on the potential for PET to substitute heavy glass in hot fill jars (see pages 14-15).
But returning to the irrational consumer, it is in fact possible for packaging to engage positive emotions, as perfume brands demonstrate in their (usually glass) bottles. Plastics may find it difficult to match glass in premium segments, but the design freedom of plastics gives it great potential for consumer engagement. Just take a look at the U-boat drinks bottle (page 15) to see how Greiner puts the fun in functionality.
Firms should innovate not just in the environmental performance of packaging, but also in its design, where they can appeal to hearts as well as heads.
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