Page 2: Challenges
For economic reasons, companies design packaging to use just enough, and no more, material than is needed to ensure that goods survive the distribution chain and are delivered to consumers in good condition. In developing countries, up to 50% of food is wasted on the journey from farm to shop. In Western Europe less than 3% goes to waste. However, companies are also faced with the problem that consumers often say that they think packaging is a waste of resources. This is not really surprising because people go shopping for low-calorie lasagne, baked beans or fizzy orange juice and tend not to notice the carton, can or bottle until they have eaten or used the contents and the packaging becomes 'waste'.
Packaging’s various roles – ensuring that goods survive the hazardous journey through the distribution chain and enabling efficient handling of goods, which in turn helps keep costs to consumers down – are usually taken for granted. Packaging is a significant fraction – between 20% and 25% by weight – of municipal solid waste, which is largely household waste. What the consumer does not see is that household dustbin waste makes up less than 20% of the total solid waste from all sources sent to landfill in a typical European country. Landfill is dominated by industrial, demolition and construction waste. Household packaging accounts for less than 5% by weight or volume.
Formation and role of INCPEN
Rather than respond to these issues individually, companies in the packaging sector decided to set up a joint body,The Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) to carry out research into the environmental and social effects of packaging. INCPEN produced the first detailed estimates of the amount of packaging that enters the waste stream and its relationship to total waste generation. It has commissioned studies into the energy requirements of packaging production and packaging distribution systems, and it has carried out surveys of litter.
INCPEN commissioned an independent study on “Packaging in a Market Economy” which examined the functional, environmental, social and economic considerations involved in packaging assessment, including case studies on the packaging for fish, computer monitors, liquid detergents and luxury cosmetics (see http://www.incpen.org/html/workingp.htm). More recently, it has published a report on the environmental impact of packaging in the UK food supply system, investigating the resource requirements of food packaging against those of food production and distribution.
The findings from this research have been used to promote good packaging practice and to inform legislators, consumers and interest groups about the role of packaging. One of the reasons for setting up a joint body is because there is not a 'packaging industry' as such. All companies in the goods supply chain have some influence on packaging including:
- raw material manufacturers e.g. steel manufacturers
- packaging manufacturers e.g. can, bottle and wrapping manufacturers
- manufacturers of packaged goods
- retailers of goods.
Packaging is a 'product' for a can manufacturer. For a baked beans manufacturer, however, it is part of the system for delivering the beans to the consumer. It performs a range of functions.