The Evolution of Packaging

Packaging has always been important. It’s what allows people to buy goods knowing that they’ll last until they’ve been used up. The nature of packaging has, however, changed a lot throughout its history. Here is a brief guide to how it has evolved.

The very early days

In the very early days of human commerce, all packaging had to be made out of natural material. Wood was really the only option for carrying heavy goods, especially over long distances.

There were, however, plenty of other options for carrying lighter products over shorter distances. Strong fabrics such as wool were turned into bags. Leather was turned into bags and flasks (for carrying liquids) Straw and reeds were turned into baskets.

The arrival of clay and glass

Clay and glass provided more options for transporting and storing products especially liquids and creams. They were heavy and fragile but could be moulded into shapes which suited the products for which they were intended. This allowed for more accurate measuring. As a bonus, they could be decorated. Manufacturers knew the value of attractive packaging even back then!

The arrival of cardboard

Cardboard has been around since the early 19th century. It was arguably the first packaging revolution. Even in the early days, cardboard packaging could be manufactured quickly and affordably. It was lightweight and robust but flexible. This reduced the cost of transporting it either empty or filled.

The one downside to cardboard was that it couldn’t support the same weight as wood. For the most part, however, this didn’t (and doesn’t) matter. Large goods may need to go into wooden crates. Smaller goods can, however, often be divided between multiple cardboard boxes.

The arrival of plastic

Plastic has been around since the early 20th century. It took until the 1960s for it to go mainstream. At that point, however, it was generally used for products rather than packaging. It became popular for items which needed to be hardwearing and easy to clean such as worktops and tables. In fact, Formica tables are now widely considered to be a 1960s classic.

By the 1980s, however, it was starting to become a popular packing material. It rapidly took over from cardboard boxes, glass bottles and cloth bags. What’s more, it started to be used in areas which had traditionally never used packaging.

For example, prior to the 1980s, fruit and vegetables were generally sold loose. Customers sometimes put them in shop-provided paper bags. There was, however, generally nothing to stop customers using their own string bags.

From the 1980s until relatively recently, however, fruit and vegetables were increasingly sold in plastic-wrapped packages. If they were sold loose, shoppers were encouraged or even required, to put them into shop-provided plastic bags.

Current day

There are now so many packaging materials to choose from that it would be too many to list all of them. Many types of food packaging, however, are slowly seeing a shift away from plastic. At one point in the 90’s and 00’s, plastic was used to package pretty much all foods. Only things like tin cans managed to hang on. Luckily, there is now packaging that utilizes the starches and fibers found in plants such as corn, rice, and hemp.

The way forward

While there has been a lot of pushback against plastic, it’s important to realize that plastic really does have a lot of benefits. In particular, it’s both robust and hygienic. This means that the way forward is likely to be to create new forms of plastic which blend functionality with sustainability. The new generation of soluble bio-plastics is a good example of how this might work.

Author Bio

Ansini Limited are specialists in vacuum forming and thermoplastic moulding. Their social responsibility to the environment ensures their procedures and products cut waste and reduce the use of energy.