The Importance of Packaging

By producing tons of waste every year, we intensify environmental pollution. Especially plastics and non-recyclable materials compound the situation. As the production of waste rises year by year, it is necessary to find a solution. Nowadays a variety of so-called zero-waste grocery stores and supermarkets open their doors to ban all kind of packaging. However, is this the right way? The following article covers all aspects of zero-waste stores and states why packaging remains important and indispensable.

In many European and US cities, time travel takes place: Zero-waste grocery stores where people can bring their own containers are springing up, but in fact they are anything but new. The principle of leaving no waste behind dates back to an earlier time. Before plastics became one of the commonly used packaging materials, it has been the usual to bring your own containers, weigh the food that you want and take it home. Today's zero-waste grocery stores work in a similar way. Consumers can buy their food by filling their own containers with unpacked food that is stored in bulk. If a consumer forgets to bring his own container, it is possible to buy containers in the store.

The benefits of unpacked food are obvious: Less food waste as consumers are only buying as much food as need, resource conservation through the reduction of packaging materials in the supply chain and the reduction of material waste by reusing the containers. Diversified living conditions have been influencing consumer behavior over the years. Single person households, shortened lunch breaks and less motivation to prepare a whole meal on your own are just some of the reasons why convenience food is favored by a growing amount of consumers. Eating a salad that comes ready to eat is comfortable, but it also produces a lot of waste. Therefore, packaging-free supermarkets are the newest way to live a zero-waste life.

Many people forget that packaging is important though. Packaging fulfils three major functions: safety, logistics and marketing. It protects food and other products against dirt and damage. Therefore, there are barely any suppliers who are willing to transport their products without packaging. While local suppliers might not see a problem with unpacked food, it is almost impossible for wholesale suppliers to pass on products without any packaging. Especially with regards to storage, it is necessary that products are packaged to guarantee safe storing. To avoid mold and a loss of quality, packaging is often unavoidable. From the perspective of marketing, it is important that food is wrapped in a special packaging. Packaging is not only an eye-catcher, it is an identifier as well. Both marketers and consumers are dependent from noticeable packaging as it is important to distinguish among the variety of different products.

Bringing all these aspects together, it is not surprising that hardly any member of the supply chain is interested in removing packaging. Experts predict that zero-waste supermarkets won't become a main shopping place, rather a promising opportunity to silence the conscience. It is obvious that packaging-free supermarkets are not the anticipated solution to reduce waste. It is rather a question of whether packaging could be the solution itself. The main problem nowadays with regards to waste is that a huge amount of packaging materials are not readily recyclable or appropriate for disposal. Take for example, wrapping paper that contains foreign materials such as foil-coatings. A single yoghurt pot contains around 600 chemicals such as UV stabilizers, antioxidants and extenders to make the pot refractory and lightweight. Those components make the packaging material non-recyclable.

Environmental sustainability and business often don't go hand in hand. Packaging-free supermarkets might be a good step for the individual to live a zero-waste life but they are not suitable for the masses. Instead, waste-related problems have to be solved in a different way. Therefore research and advancement in technology are necessary to find improved recyclable packaging materials that are also business friendly. There are already many different recyclable materials but both consumers and manufacturers have to start to use them. In the end, this will be a benefit for everyone.