Gobar Times
Cover Story

Out of the Box!

Packaging has become a part and parcel (quite literally) of our lives. It is everywhere and yet, goes unnoticed all the time. Now for a change, let's think about the box.

Pandit ji and Panditayen are in a grocery shop, stocking up for the kitchen. Panditayen picks up a packet of spices, looks at it and puts it back on the shelf. Then she picks a second one, turns it around, smiles, and puts it in her shopping bag. She moves to a self stacked with cooking oil. Shakes her head and frowns as she looks at the cans. Then she picks up a bottle from another shelf. Suddenly she finds Pandit ji watching her with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. “Is anything wrong?” asks Panditayen.

“I was wondering why you picked up Mohitlalji’s coriander powder? What was wrong with Mix-n-Fix? And why SunFresh vegetable oil particularly?” asks Panditji. Panditayen waves her hand impatiently. “See Mohitlalji’s packet carries a list of all the ingredients. And the SunFresh brand’s bottle has a nicer shape. I can use it later to store things. The company must be making a neat profit and can spend on attractive packaging.” “But shouldn’t we be more concerned about the quality of the stuff that is packed in that bottle?,” Panditji scratches his head. May be, but packaging decides, to a great extent, whether a product remains on the shelf or is picked up by a consumer…


In ancient times, human beings realised the advantages of storing the surplus food collected during food-gathering, hunting, and fishing – in natural containers. Like gourds, shells, and leaves. With passage of time and the advent of agriculture, there grew a need for better ways of protecting seeds and harvested products. Natural materials like hollowed logs, woven grasses and animal organs were also put to innovative use. Then as ores and chemical compounds were discovered, metals and terracotta pottery were used to pack things.

This was the beginning of the modern world of packaging. Packaging, as we know today, is no more mere storing of products. It is the science, art and technology of enclosing or protecting products for distribution, storage, sale and use. It includes the processes of designing, evaluation, and production of packages. Its main constituent is labelling. Labelling provides us with a recognisable logo and we instantly know the type of goods that are wrapped inside the package. Each and every item in today's world is packaged – from a cigarette to a car to the food we eat – not only for their storage and protection, but for a range of reasons.


Here are a few ways in which forms of packaging help both manufacturers and consumers:

Protection – from shock, vibration, compression, temperature, and so on. Act as barriers against oxygen, water vapor, and dust. Food packages keep the contents clean, fresh, and safe for a longer shelf-life.
Containment – small objects are grouped together in one package for reasons of efficiency. For example, handling one matchbox requires less effort than managing 50 single matchsticks. Liquids and powders need to be contained. Providing information – regarding the use, transport, recycling, or disposing of the package and product. Governments also mandate some information, such as ingredients of medicines and cosmetics.
Security – against product tampering, and pilferage. Some may have anti-theft devices, such as dye-packs, RFID tags, or electronic article surveillance tags.
Convenience – some package-features can help in distribution, handling, display, sale, opening, re-closing, use, and reuse.
Portion control – The precise amount of contents (dose or serving) can be provided.
Marketing tool – Packaging is an extremely effective marketing tool, and can be used by sales personnel to encourage and lure consumers to buy various products.
Packaging material ranges from fragile china to tough metals, from inflexible glass to the stretchy cloth, from natural paper to artificial plastic.

The individualisation of society has filtered through to families. The number of working women continues to grow. Less time is available for families to share mealtimes. Individual family members now eat when it suits them. Families, singles and the older generation all place greater value on leisure activities than they did in the past. This new European lifestyle promotes a change in consumer behaviour and consequently has a significant impact on the packaging industry.

The reason is quite simply that people are cooking less. Microwave ovens, frozen meals and eating on the go are now given preference over traditional forms of eating and cooking. These far-reaching social and cultural changes call for flexible mechanisms in both policy-making and industry to bring about the necessary innovations, to pave the way for change and to handle the environmental consequences.

Producers of consumer goods must, however, respond to the growing number of single-person households, otherwise the environmental impact of product waste will be significantly higher, say experts. For example: A single-person household consumes less bread per day than a three-person household. If a package contains more bread than is needed for a certain period of time, there is a greater risk of the bread becoming mouldy and being thrown away. This is a waste of the primary energy that was used to produce, distribute and store the bread. This loss of energy means that the environmental impact is greater than if the same amount of bread had been packed in smaller portions. This clearly shows that if packaging is tailored to the product and to consumer needs, it can significantly lower the environmental impact. Efficient product protection, therefore, calls for ecological efficiency.

Source: PRO EUROPE (PACKAGING RECOVERY ORGANISATION EUROPE), founded in 1995, is the umbrella organisation for European packaging and packaging waste recovery and recycling schemes, which mainly use the “Green Dot” trademark as a financing symbol.

So how did these packaging solutions come into being? Packaging is a development process, and the result of many years of innovation – in some cases accidental.

A timeline of evolution of packaging and materials used


Cloth or paper may be the oldest form of flexible packaging.

  • Second century BC: Chinese used sheets of treated mulberry bark to wrap foods, and later developed and refined the techniques of papermaking.
  • 1867: the process for deriving fibre from wood pulp developed.
  • 1844: Commercial paper bags first  manufactured in Bristol, England.
  • 1817: The first paperboard carton produced in England, more than two hundred years after the Chinese invented cardboard or paperboard.
  • 1850s: Corrugated cardboard came to use.
  • 1870s: The first automatically made carton 'accidentally' created by Robert Gair.


  • 7000 BC: Glass-making began as an offshoot of pottery
  • 1500 BC: First industrialised in Egypt
  • 1200 BC: Glass pressed into moulds to make cups and bowls.
  • 300 BC: Blowpipe invented by the Phoenicians, speeding production
  • 1600-1700s: The split mould developed, providing for irregular shapes, raised decorations, and identification of the maker and the product name.
  • 1889: The first automatic rotary bottle-making machine patented.


  • Ancient boxes and cups were made from silver and gold.
  • 1200 AD: The process of tin plating discovered in Bohemia.
  • 1764: London tobacconists began selling snuff in metal canisters.
  • 1809: Nicholas Appert used tin containers to preserve foods for General Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, who offered 12,000 francs for the task.
  • 1810: Peter Durand of Britain received patent for tinplate after devising the sealed cylindrical  can.
  • 1866: The first printed metal boxes made in the United States for  cakes of Dr. Lyon's tooth powder.
  • 1868: Interior enamels for cans developed.
  • 1950s: The first aluminum foil containers designed, and aluminum can appeared in 1959.
  • 1841: Collapsible, soft metal tubes, first used for artists paints.


  • Nineteenth century: Several plastics discovered – styrene in 1831, vinyl chloride in 1835, and celluloid in the late 1860s – but became practical for packaging in the 20th century.
  • 1950s: Styrofoam available worldwide. Insulation and cushioning materials, foam boxes, cups and meat trays became popular.
  • 1947: Moulded deodorant squeeze bottles introduced.
  • 1958: Heat shrinkable films developed from blending styrene with synthetic rubber.
  • 1900: Cellulose acetate derived from wood pulp, and developed for photographic uses in 1909.
  • 1924: DuPont manufactured cellophane in New York, commercially used for packaging in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
  • 1933: Polyethylene film wraps protected submarine telephone cables and later used for World War II radar cables and drug tablet packaging.
  • 1977: Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) used for beverages. By 1980, foods and other hot-fill products, such as jams, packaged in PETE.
The research to find better methods of packaging goods is an ongoing process, and forms an extremely dynamic industry. Packaging is one industry that creates wealth through the manufacturing activities, and also preserves the wealth or value created by many other industries through its services. It is crucial for every economy, in terms of technological advancement and the scale of its services.
The turnover of the world packaging industry in 2004 was US $485 billion and the worldwide demand is expected to reach US $570 billion by 2009.


India is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Its packaging industry has a turnover of about Rs 15,000 crores, and is growing by 14-15 per cent annually (2005-06). More than 80 per cent of this constitutes rigid and semi-flexible packaging, and the remaining percentage comprises flexible packaging. It ranks 15th in paper and paperboard consumption in the world. And 40 per cent of the total demand for paper of around six million tonnes is consumed by the packaging industry.

However, polymer (plastic) has gained vast acceptability, and has become one of the most commonly used substrate in flexible packaging. Unfortunately, there are many environmental concerns of using plastic. (See box:Packlastic) The increasing quantities of plastic waste and its disposal is a major concern, and we all know what the consequences of indiscriminate littering of plastic wastes are. To add to the problem, they are manufactured from non-renewable resources. In India, states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and a few cities like Bangalore have banned the use of thin plastic bags.

But plastic is still preferred by many manufacturers because of its light weight, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness. Other materials like glass and metals are not only costlier, they also add to the weight of the package, thus increasing the shipping costs. And their lifecycle analyses make it difficult to decide whether they are actually more environment friendly. For instance, according to an ecological analysis by the German Federal Environmental Agency, returnable PET packaging for mineral water and carbonated soft drinks are a better choice over returnable glass systems. So every packaging material has its pros and cons. But the main problem is not choosing an eco-friendlier material, but what we do with the packaging stuff, once they are used. In India, there are some rules and regulations governing the packaging process to guide us.


Packaging industry is the prime user of plastics in India, accounting for 42 per cent of the total consumption. And this may increase six times by 2030.

> During the last decade, the total consumption of plastics grew at a rate of 12 per cent per annum.
> The average per capita consumption of virgin plastics reached 3.2 Kgs in 2000-2001 (5 Kgs including recycled material) from 0.8 kg in 1990-1991.

> By 2030, plastic waste available for disposal (excluding recycled plastics) will be 10 times more than that in 2000-2001, assuming that the recycling rates will remain constant for the next three decades.
> More than 5400 tonnes of plastic waste was generated per day in 2000-2001 (or two million tonnes per annum).

> 47 per cent of the total plastic waste generated is currently recycled.
> The share of recycling will decrease to 35 per cent over the next three decades, due to the escalating share of longlife products in the economy and in the volume of waste generated.

    Packaging Tricks!!   

Get smart, examine packaging in your life

Look at the items on the label that are required by law.

  • manufacturer's name and contact details
  • name of the product
  • description of the product
  • weight (NB – some foods are exempt, for example, bread)
  • ingredients (listed in descending order of weight)
  • cooking/heating instructions
  • storage instructions
  • best-before date

Try and guess how and where will this package be disposed? Is the material bio-degradable? How many kinds of materials have been used in the total package? Draw out an imaginary ‘waste trail’ once the package is thrown away. Can this packaging be recycled?

Everyone is becoming increasingly more health conscious and demanding more information. The food labels in packaging should tell us the kind of data we need to make informed, healthy choices regarding the foods we eat. Look for “Nutrition Facts” label. Is it easy to read? Is the information adequate? How credible is it?

    Green packaging    
causes less damage to the environment than other forms of packaging – it is 'environmentally friendly'. There are three types of green packaging:

* Reusable packaging, such as glass bottles, which can itself be cleaned and re-used to store the same food or something else.
* Recyclable packaging, which is made of materials that can be used again, usually after processing, for packaging or some other purpose. Recyclable packaging materials include glass, metal, card and paper.
* Biodegradable packaging, which will easily breakdown and disappear into the soil or the atmosphere, without causing damage.

Is the amount of packaging appropriate for the amount of content inside? Can savings on extra material be made by changing size and volume? Is the ‘void’ or empty space misleading to the consumer and is it also a waste of energy and resources? Write to manufacturers and let them know that you find their packaging wasteful. Send the packaging material with the letter.

Look at the graphics on the package. What devices has the manufacturer used to attract your attention? Has he used cartoons, pictures, colour? Is the image of the product the same as what you actually found inside? Have words like ‘new’, ‘ultra’, ‘extra’, ‘fresh’ been used? How honest and truthful are these claims? How else would you have designed it?

Natures Amazing Packaging     
Containment, Protection, Handling, Delivery and presentation

Seeds are the ultimate in natural packaging. They contain the embryo for a new plant and the food to get it off to a good start. It is often a case of just add water, but some seeds are a bit tougher and need to have their hard seed coat (or testa) worn away before the moisture can get in to begin germination.

Competing with seeds for the title of the best package in nature is the simple egg. Eggs may seem fragile but in reality, their unique shape makes them tough. Try squeezing an egg lengthways – it will be extremely hard to crack, as the force is spread over the whole egg.

Nuts are a dried fruit that can be very difficult to get at. A macadamia nut shell, for example, requires a pressure of 136 Kg per square inch to crack it!

Crustaceans, the class of hard-shelled animals that includes insects, shrimps and lobsters, have their skeleton on the outside so it doubles up as a protective packaging. But it is the molluscs, like oysters and snails, who are the masters of armoured packaging. Their tough shells can far outlive the mushy creature inside.

Packaging does not have to be hard to be protective. Some species of parrot fish cover themselves in a slime cocoon while they sleep at night to protect themselves from predators like moray eels. Bacteria use a slime to stop them from drying out; after all, they are mostly made of water. Any animal that does not spend all its time in water is at risk of becoming too dry, so slime can come in very handy.

    PACK RULES    

  • Packing needs to be strong to protect against extreme heat and humidity in the summer and possible storage in the open.
  • Steel strapping is also recommended because of the threat of pilfering.
  • Outer containers must bear the consignee's and port marks, and they should also be numbered (in accordance with the packing list) unless their contents can be otherwise readily identified.
  • Gross weight must also be shown on two faces.
  • Goods produced in more than one country are required to have 'Foreign Made' or similar wordings clearly marked on the  goods, their labels or packages. All other imports must show the country of origin.
  • Materials, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), are not allowed for packaging in most cities due to environmental concerns and waste disposal problems.

Label norms

There are strict labelling rules as well to protect the rights of consumers.

  • The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, prohibits the manufacture, distribution or sale of any packaged food product that is not marked and labelled in the manner specified by regulations.
  • Labels cannot make false or misleading claims, including in regard to implied health claims or place of origin of the food product.
  • Importers of packaged food products must adhere to laws requiring labelling information that includes the name and address of the importer, generic or common name of the product, the net quantity, date of manufacture, best-before date and maximum sales price including any taxes or charges.
  • Product labels should be printed in English or Hindi (Devnagari script) and must be completed before products
    are presented for Customs clearance.

But these rules and regulations lag far behind the detailed regulations implemented worldwide, for example that of Harmonised European Union Directives, US (Food and Drug Administration), Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Most countries focus on waste prevention by proper packaging, minimisation (also called source reduction) of the mass and volume of packaging (per unit of contents), reuse, recycling, energy recovery (use of the heat available from the packaging components by waste-to-energy and refusederived fuel facilities), and disposal.

The basic idea is to reduce packaging to the minimal requirement, and to reuse and recycle the package – the 'three Rs' of reduce, reuse and recycle. The best means of preventing piling of packaging waste is to reduce the overall volume of packaging. In terms of materials, regulations along with public concerns regarding safety and environment have placed materials, like cardboard and glass, in an advantage over polymers.

However, polymer packaging will dominate the market because of its convenient usage. So when Panditayen chose a particular brand of a product over others, she was not only influenced by the looks of the package. A host of other, more important factors, came into play. She was impressed by the marketing of the product, its labelling, government rules and regulations, and the packaging industry as a whole.

Next time you pick up a bottle of juice, do not only think about what is inside the packet, but also be aware and conscious of what     is    the packet.


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Out of the Box!