Issue No.07
  • The terms 'excessive packaging' and 'overpackaging' are not synonymous and should not be confused with one an-other. Excessive packaging implies that there is too much used altogether. Users who put forward this argument often deny or fail to understand the role of packaging in today's modern society.
  • Charges of 'overpackaging', meaning more than is necessary, often reflect a technical lack of understanding of the product package mix or the rigours which a package must withstand to perform efficiently and satisfactorily in its life cycle.
  • It is not in the best interests of industry to use excessive packaging or to overpackage on either economic or environmental grounds as it adds to cost and product price, reduces competitiveness and is not acceptable in the marketplace.
As a result of packaging's short life span, compared with the product it protects, it is often considered wasteful or excessive. Its durability and visibility in domestic waste tends to confirm the suspicion that there is too much packaging. Its utility is taken for granted and its contribution to the Australian quality of life and economy is not perceived or well understood.

The Role of Packaging

Packaging performs a number of essential services in today's modern society often overlooked or ignored by critics focusing on environmental issues.

Packaging is not designed to be garbage.

It is an essential link in the distribution chain. Minimal packaging materials are used to perform a specific task. In most cases packaging reduces the cost of goods, because its role as protector means reduced product damage. Obviously this is vitally important when shipping fragile and high-tech goods.

In the case of foodstuffs, processing costs too are reduced, as also are losses due to spoilage or vermin. Packaging therefore plays a significant role in maintaining public health and safety.

Today, the word 'convenience' has assumed a socially undesirable connotation. People feel guilty about the modern life-style and its accent on leisure. Packaging has become the whipping boy. It has developed to meet today's needs and provides sought after convenience features suited to the population's age and range of activities. These include both bulk and single serve packs; opening, dispensing and resealing features, tamper evident and child resistant devices. Environ-mental considerations are included in package design and materials usage. Directions for use are another feature of today's user friendly packaging.

It is wanted and it is indispensable. We prefer to spend our time pursuing activities of our choice, rather than being bound by repetitive chores. Packaging makes it easy for us to do so with the variety of fast foods, for example, and the range of do-it-yourself products available.

Significant Achievements

Packaging is 22% (by weight) of domestic waste and only 10% of the total waste stream. Across Australia there is a goal to reduce waste (including packaging waste) by 50% by 2000. The packaging industry has voluntarily entered into this commitment and through a number of initiatives is well on the way to achieving this target.

Significant resource conservation has occurred across the industry in the last twenty years through lightweighting:

• The weight of the 375ml glass beer stubby has been reduced by 35% since 1980.

• The weight of a standard 440gm fruit can has been reduced by 18% since 1980.

• Since 1970 a weight saving of 30% has been made to corrugated shipping boxes used for general grocery products.
• Folding cartons as used for breakfast cereals, etc. have had their weight reduced by 15% since 1970.

• The weight of gable top milk and juice cartons has been reduced by 23% since 1975.

• Since their introduction in Australia in 1979, "long life" aseptic cartons have been reduced in weight by 15%.

• A weight saving of 29% has been made to 375ml aluminium beer and soft drink cans since their introduction in 1969.

• The weight of 200ml polystyrene yoghurt tubs has been reduced by 20% since 1986.

• Since its Australian debut in 1980, the HDPE milk bottle has been reduced in weight by 30%.

• The PET soft drink bottle weight has been reduced by 38% since its introduction in the late seventies.

Another initiative taken by the packaging industry to reduce waste is to increase the rate of recycling. Recycling levels proposed by the industry and endorsed by Australian & New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) are as follows. These rates are to be achieved by 1995:

> Plastic containers (25%)
> Glass (45%)
> Aluminium cans (65%)
> Steel cans (25% by 1996)
> Liquidpaperboard containers (20%)
> Newsprint (40%)
> Paper packaging (71% of input to be secondary fibre)

In 1992 an Environmental Code of Practice for Packaging was released. New package design now incorporates an environmental impact study; technological development allows lighter weight packaging without loss of job performance; reuse and recycling are on the increase where viable markets exist.

Packaging's positive contribution to environmental protection goes beyond these achievements. Studies show that in societies where packaging is not as prevalent, there is a greater volume of domestic garbage due to wastage of food and food scraps.

Product and package manufacturers are in a highly competitive market. The product manufacturer wants to sell the product and keep costs down. Unnecessary packaging adds to costs. The package manufacturer has to ensure that there is neither too much (overpackaging) nor too little which would be a false economy.

Legislation exists regarding the suitability of certain containers for particular purposes and products. It also prescribes the dimensions of a package to guard against deceptive packaging and the words and descriptions used on a package which enable consumers to make informed choices.

Packaging is a significant contributor to the Australian economy. The Packaging Council conservatively estimates that the consumption of packaging has an annual value of $4.5 billion and that in excess of 29,000 people are directly employed in the industry.
The Packaging Council deplores the careless use of the term excessive packaging, used most frequently in environmental and political debate. Such simplistic labelling ignores the invaluable role played by packaging to maintain the health and safety of today's urbanised society.

The prime functions of packaging - protection, safety, containment, preservation - must not be compromised on environ-mental grounds. Resource usage and the environmental impacts of packaging should be taken into consideration when package design and manufacture is in the developmental stage.

For both economic and environmental reasons the packaging industry seeks to keep packaging material usage at the minimum required to satisfy technical, quality and performance standards.

The industry continues to make significant financial investments in plant and machinery, research and technology in order to maintain world class competitive packaging, and which also result in cleaner production methods and products with reduced environmental impact.
Read other Issues Papers:

No.01 - "Combustion with Energy Recovery"
No.02 - "Life Cycle Analysis"
No.03 - "Managing Packaging Waste in Europe - Lessons for Australia"
No.04 - "Waste Management "
No.05 - "Litter"
No.06 - "Mandatory Deposits"
No.08 - "Recycling"
No.09 - "Australian Packaging - How Competitive?"
No.10 - "The Packaging Council of Australia"
No.11 - "Mandatory Minimum Recycled Content"
No.12 - "Eco-Labelling"
No.13 - "Packaging - Ten Trends for The Next Ten Years"
No.14 - "Packaging - It's Essential Role"
No.15 - "The Internet - What it Means for Australian Packaging"
No.16 - "Single, Active, Post-Materialistic, and Grey?"
No.17 - "Digitisation in Printing - Implications for Packaging"
No.18 - "Australian Packaging: Issues and Trends"