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Packaging

Packaging development and design can be viewed in four different ways:

  1. A means of protecting the contents of a package
  2. A contributor to the cost of the end product
  3. A sales canvas on which to promote the product’s attributes and benefits
  4. Part of the product experience itself

The packaging industry is actually a collection of industries involving raw material production (paper, plastics, metals), the conversion of raw materials into forms ready used for package applications (coating, laminating, printing), product/package design (foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, chemicals), distribution and logistics (warehousing, distribution, transportation) and end-of-life-cycle processing (recycling, reusing, water-to-energy).

Factors affecting packaging development and design can be:

  1. Legal issues
  2. Consumer behavior and point of sale
  3. Economic factors
  4. Social culture issues
  5. Technology
  6. Production manufacturing
  7. Competitors
  8. Distribution channels
  9. Regional trends
  10. Ecology environmental concerns

Well developed/designed package must also address the needs of its life cycle. This life cycle runs from the moment it is used to wrap its product (whether this is by hand or in a factory), to the point of sale, to the point of use, and finally – with current tough environmental laws – to its after-use.

Ideally, a product’s package should consist of materials that maintain the quality and safety of the product indefinitely with no degradation over time. It should be attractive, convenient, and easy to use while conveying all pertinent information, and be made from renewable resources, generating no waste for disposal, as well as inexpensive. Creating a package is as much an art as a science, trying to achieve the best overall result without falling below acceptable standards in any single category (an exercise in balancing and negotiation). 

From a product characteristic perspective, the inertness and absolute barrier properties of glass make it the best choice material for most packaging applications. However, the economic disadvantage of glass boosts the use of alternatives such as plastic. 

While plastics offer a wide range of properties and are used in various products applications, their permeability is less optimal – unlike metal, which is totally impervious to light, moisture, and air. Attempts to balance competing needs can sometimes be addressed by mixing packaging materials – for example, combining different plastics through co-extrusion or lamination – or by laminating plastics with foil or paper. Limitation of plastic materials for primary packaging is also considered in legal compliance. A number of polymers are already banned in the USA and EU, e.g. acrylonitrile polymer. Additionally, environmentalists have criticized some polymers. Plasticiser migration, from products such as PVC has also been an issue, leading to a switch to PET in the past few years. At the same time, some polymers have been identified as a potential hazard risk in some countries, and are regulated, for example 2011/8/EU and EU no. 321/2011 restricting the use of Bisphenol A in plastic infant feeding bottles, and EU no. 10/2011 regulating plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.

BPA is permitted for food contact use in other countries such as the USA under its assessment of BPA for used in food contact application, Japan under the current Food Sanitation Act, and in Canada, where BPA was assessed under the federal government’s chemical management plan (CMP) in 2008. A baby food scare made the headlines in mid-2003 when Semicarbazide (SEM) was detected in baby foods at levels up to 25 ppb. SEM is produced during the heat treatment of an approved blowing agent (Azodicarbonamide which acts by releasing nitrogen gas) used in the manufacture of sealing gaskets in the PT (press on-twist off) closures of glass jars. The use of Azodicarbonamide in food contact materials was prohibited in the EU from August 2005. SEM is in the chemical class of Hydrazines, some of which are known to be genotoxic and carcinogenic. A Canadian risk-benefit analysis of the use of Azodicarbonamide in baby food closures funded in part by Heinz [Nestmann et al. 2005] concluded that the margin of safety is more than 21,000 and that any theoretical risk is outweighed by the benefits of continuing use of the PT closure to ensure both the microbial integrity and availability of commercial baby foods as a valuable source of infant nutrition. Hazard and risk analysis is a suitable tool which comes out of a possible contamination hazard and quality assurance systems should be considered during packaging design.

The recovery and recycling program is a natural evolution of the green box sustainability initiative and one which will provide long-term environmental and economic benefits. Zero manufacturing waste to landfill is an interesting development, with potential for 100% landfill waste diversion through a combination of recycling and energy recovery solutions.

‘Green’ packaging is not just about recycling. It now also lives in the world of food miles where we measure the distance a product has to travel from source to point of purchase. Therefore truly green packaging needs to consider more issues than recyclability. It needs to consider palette maximization, such as packs designed to minimize the amount of air that is shipped during transportation.

Considerations for Use of Different Packaging Materials

The key to successful packaging is to select the package material and design that best satisfies competing needs with regard to product characteristics, marketing considerations (including distribution needs and consumer needs), environmental and waste management issues, and cost. Not only is balancing so many factors difficult, but also it requires a different analysis for each product, considering factors such as the properties of the packaging material, the type of products to be packaged, possible products (e.g. food, cosmetic, medicine, etc.) versus packaging material interactions, the intended market for the product, desired product shelf-life, environmental conditions during storage and distribution, product end use, eventual package disposal, and costs related to the package throughout the production and distribution process. Some of these factors are interrelated, for example, the type of food and the properties of the packaging material determine the nature of food–package interactions during storage including legal compliance. Other factors, for example, single-serving packaging meets consumer needs, but bulk packaging is better for environmental reasons.

Ultimately, the consumer plays a significant role in package design. Consumer desires drive product sales, and the package is a significant sales tool. Although a bulk glass bottle might be the best material for perfume or fruit juice or carbonic beverages, sales will be affected if competitors continue to use plastic to meet the consumer desire for shatterproof, portable, single-serving containers. 

Conclusion

The purpose of packaging must continue to be maintaining the safety, quality of products and legal compliance. The impact of packaging waste on the environment can be minimized by prudently selecting materials and reviewing expectations of packaging in terms of environmental impact. Knowledgeable efforts by industry, government, and consumers will promote continued improvement, and an understanding of the functional characteristics of packaging will prevent much of the well-intentioned but ill-advised solutions that do not adequately account for both pre-consumer and post-consumer packaging factors. 

For more information, please contact:

Mr. Wechayan Thanabodeepat
Lead Auditor
SGS (Thailand) Limited

About SGS

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 85,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,800 offices and laboratories around the world.

Reference:

Packaging Information Source in Thailand 1985, The Thai Packaging Association, Packmates Co., Ltd., Thailand 1985.

Fundamentals of Packaging Technology, The Institute of Packaging, Elanders Hindson Ltd. 1996.

Safety assessment and risk-benefit analysis of the use of Azodicarbonamide in baby food jar closure technology: Putting trace levels of Semicarbazide exposure into perspective — A review, Nestmann ER, Lynch BS, Musa-Veloso K, Goodfellow OH, Cheng E, Haighton LA, Lee-Brotherton VM (2005). Food Additive Contam. 22: 875-891.

Food Packaging—Roles, Materials and Environmental Issues, Institute of Food Technologist, Kenneth Marsh, PH.D., and Betty Bugusu, PH.D., 2007.