The issue of sustainability has become a major concern of businesses and consumers over the last decade. The awareness about the sociological, institutional, and economic aspects of the country’s environmental impact is a part of today’s political agenda. A broad range of measures must be taken to ensure that businesses increase their efforts to reduce the detrimental impact of conventional plastic packaging on the environment. Recovery and reduction of packaging materials and waste are the main part of manufacturing sustainability initiatives. It must be done parallel with the reuse and recycling of the disposed waste and the minimization of unsafe packaging components. Since improper packaging techniques applied to perishable products pose a threat to human health and environment, along with the cost-efficiency and brand communication, the manufacturers and marketers need to take into account multiple safety, environmental and health concerns while developing a package design.
Role of Packaging in Marketing
Current consumer and market trends place increasing importance on the packaging to communicate brand messages (Underwood & Klein, 2002). The emphasis is placed on reducing advertising costs that can allow more spending on trade and sales promotion along with the development of brand awareness (Underwood & Klein, 2002). The role of packaging as a marketing tool has become more pronounced for the industry over the last few decades (Underwood & Klein, 2002). However, the amount of academic attention to the packaging was almost insignificant over the same period and only increased in the last decade (Underwood & Klein, 2002).
A successful packaging strategy communicates functional, aesthetic, and symbolic values to the customer and provokes the increase of product demand while forming positive brand perception (Underwood & Klein, 2002). The modern consumers prefer the packing materials that would be sustainable or even reusable. The use of green packaging serves as a mechanism that helps establish long-lasting relationships with customers emphasizing sustainability and “green conscience,” thus turning environmental concern into a point of attraction (Underwood & Klein, 2002). The president of Plastech, Edward Gustafson, says that the time when people did not pay much attention to the sustainability and regarded it as simply a “window dressing” has ended long ago (Underwood & Klein, 2002). Nowadays, producers have to make reusability, bio-based resins, and packaging fillings the center of their interest.
Functional Properties of Packaging
The organizational production process can significantly benefit from the adoption of proper packaging techniques. The principal functions of packaging are protecting products from the deterioration and external influences and providing important nutritional and marketing information (Marsh, 2007). It allows producers to transport their products from production to the consumers while ensuring that nutritional value and wholesomeness of food are preserved (Marsh, 2007).
Packaging serves as a shield against chemical, biological and physical influences of the environment. It protects against chemical influences by minimizing the exposure of products to gases, moisture, and light. Biological protection significantly reduces the access of microorganisms to the product and provides an impenetrable barrier to the odor transmission while saving the internal condition of the package (Marsh, 2007). Physical closure of the packaging serves as a shield against mechanical damage and vibration, the risk of which is especially high during the transportation of the food (Marsh, 2007). There is a 13 % annual growth in product packaging due to the necessity to extend the shelf-life of foods (Markarian, 2014). An effective packaging technique confers a significant benefit on product processing by enhancing products’ travel safety and preserving their initial properties (Marsh, 2007).
The use of modern packaging materials leads to the food shelf life enhancement in terms of several quality attributes such as texture, color, loss of net weight, and marketability (Sahoo, Bal, Pal, & Sahoo, 2014). According to the study conducted by the Department of Agricultural Processing and Food Engineering, a bell pepper retains its initial properties for up to 20 days when preserved with the MAP packaging technique, which is five times more in comparison to ambient conditions (Sahoo, Bal, Pal, & Sahoo, 2014). The implementation of different packaging techniques and adequate storage conditions can significantly increase the shelf life of products.
Food Safety, Environment, and Packaging
The packaging is the key to the whole food processing industry. The process of processing transforms food into a consumer product in the successive set of stages using appropriate techniques and preservation methods (Mahalik, 2014). Food processing is associated with product exposure to toxins, moisture, odor, and dust. Therefore the packaging, along with sanitation and sterilization methods, should provide proper product protection to ensure “food safety and security” (Mahalik, 2014).
Inadequate use of package materials threatens environmental sustainability. The use of plastic can create long-lasting harm to the ecology; therefore, it is recommendable to use biodegradable and “environmentally friendly” materials (Mahalik, 2014). The new approach to the packaging that would involve the usage of polylactide acid plastics, the pulp from sugar cane, or its fiber composites can become a sustainable solution and provide an effective substitute for other waste-generating options (Mahalik, 2014). The materials such as wood and glass are also a chemically neutral and non-toxic alternative to the polluting packaging. They provide significant protection from oxidation processes and spoilage, but they are also safe for the environment.
Even though different sorts of plastics provide sufficient protection of food from external influences such as gases or biological hazards, some are associated with potential environmental hazards and can pose a severe threat to health (Marsh, 2007).
Consideration of Environmental and Health Concerns in Package Design
The implementation of biodegradable materials in food packaging increases interest in the investigation of alternative packaging solutions. The use of plastic-based materials such as aliphatic polyester, also known as polylactide (PLA), can be very promising for green packaging design (Ahmed & Varsheny, 2011). It is associated with excellent barrier and resistance properties and its ability to decompose into natural substances through various enzymatic processes (Ahmed & Varsheny, 2011). It retains its water vapor permeability properties at different temperatures and humidity levels. Moreover, the PLA is more resistant to water with the increase of temperature, and its permeability decreases by 75% at 25 C (Ahmed & Varsheny, 2011). It is projected that the cost of production of PLA, which is currently higher than that of conventional plastics, will be lowered with the increase of production volumes. Regardless of financial constraints related to the manufacturing of bio-based materials, the implementation of biodegradable packaging in the economies of scale can become a new and promising way to decrease the harmful influence of petroleum-based packaging materials on the environment.
The reduction of packaging waste is the key component of environmental protection policies and organizational cost control. The average amount of packaging waste that is not being recycled in the UK is approximately 10 million tonnes (White, Wang, & Li, 2014). The packaging reduction should be among the most pressing environmental issues for the wide public as it demonstrates the commitment to social responsibility. Reverse logistics, control over packaging materials, and waste management must be the main focus of the sustainability policies and initiatives. The regulations aimed at minimizing the presence of hazardous components in packaging materials will increase the interest in the investigation of alternative packaging solutions.
Positive Impacts of Green Packaging Techniques
The consideration and implementation of green design principles and compliance with health safety requirements in packaging have the potential to confer numerous advantages to organizations. They may positively impact environmental sustainability. The consumers’ perception of the “naturalness” of a product significantly influences their purchasing choices (Binninger, 2015). The emotional elements of the packaging related to the environmental qualities such as “respect for the environment” and “good health” explain the variation in the way customers regard different brands (Binninger, 2015) The recent study suggests that the perceived naturalness of a product is significantly higher when the packaging contains emotional messages (Binninger, 2015) If a packaging design communicates concern with health and environment it “adds to the good perception of the product in terms of credibility, quality and purchase intent” and, in this way, helps to increase the level of customer loyalty and competitiveness (Binninger, 2015)
The adoption of bio-based materials, minimization of packaging and incorporation of recyclate materials for numerous “end-of-life” options might not only significantly increase the sustainability of food production, but also can lead to the decrease of food waste (Markarian, 2014). The number of products requiring different sorts of packaging grows at a rate of 13 % per year, directly related to population growth (Markarian, 2014). Nevertheless, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, around 30% of the world food production is being wasted (Markarian, 2014). Adequate packaging techniques are linked to efficient waste management, which can help address the problem of protection of human health and the environment, as well as preserve natural resources (Marsh, 2007).
The adoption of inefficient packaging techniques and the use of hazardous and unrecyclable materials in packaging have to be forbidden to avoid negative effects on human health and the environment. Implementing biodegradable and plastic-based materials in food packaging can be a promising solution for addressing the problem of sustainability. Although there are some financial constraints associated with the manufacturing of bio-based materials, the adoption of biodegradable packaging is a viable option for decreasing the harmful influence of petroleum-based packaging materials on the environment. While the shift towards the consumer-driven implementation of sustainable food packaging is associated with the increase in marketing and manufacturing costs, the literature review elucidates that the administration of green packaging techniques might positively impact the long-term financial performance of businesses, consumer health, and the environment. Therefore, manufacturers need to balance immediate financial gains and environmental concerns to meet consumer’s needs and ensure long-term production sustainability.
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