Materials Used for Food Packaging (package history and functions)

Basic Functions of food packages
March 21, 2021

This post is also available in: Persian


Today one of the most important issues in the circle of supply chain and customer’s attitude is to seek a good and safe packaging method especially for foods. The potential of packaging is still one of the concepts that non-developed companies are facing with its true extend. Nowadays awareness about this issue is rising among the different participants of the related industries and there is a growing number of interests to learn more about the different aspects of this issue. This issue is as important as it taps into every individual’s life. Also affects companies and firms in multiple various ways, begins from introducing the product to customer, protecting product, to environmental issues. The packaging industries covers about two percent of gross national product in developed countries and also have a potential to rise for new products are introducing to the market every day. Recent advances in technologies especially in packaging technologies, rising pressure from the public and organizations, and the importance of health and environmental issues convinced companies and firms to choose the best packaging materials to prepare the most safe and beneficial packaging materials. The issue not only covering the materials used for packaging itself, but also the regulations considering waste and energy along with the purpose of the package itself. Here in this article we are going to present history and functions of packaging briefly.

Packaging History

The main purpose of packaging was to use for covering and protection of products. The goods were packaged using wooden pulp, paper, cardboard, or textiles as reliable and common materials, that enables consumer to carry the contents of packages to their home. For centuries the most common materials used to packaging goods were paper and glass. People know the role of packaging as a tool to protect their goods on their way to home. The recent advances in technologies after industrial revolution by eighteenth century changed the concept of packaging so manufactures were forced to adopt to new technologies and develop more resilient types of protection for their products, then the products could be transferred to the customer’s home from factory and shop. About two centuries ago, firms and companies were not aware and did not have enough information and research to discover techniques that would increase the life of products in the shelf. By the time plastic and other components were not used, so there was no alternative for packaging except paper and glass for firms and companies to choose as packaging materials. It seems that development and use of plastic materials for packaging returns to 1860s, which started by altering hard rubber. After a while synthetic plastics were gradually invented. Celluloid was the first generation of synthetic plastics. Then multiple compounds among which were polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was invented and used in vast quantities in modern packaging. Synthesized polyethylene terephthalate (known as PET) used for manufacturing of plastic bottles from 1940s, and still using today.  In twentieth century, American brewers grew fond of tins manufactured from tinplate and steel coated with chromium which were previously used in Europe during war, to sell their beverages inside protected atmosphere (Coles and Kirwan, 2011: 3) but this invention was also attractive for companies producing soup or preserved fruits (Robertson, 2013: 190). As mentioned in book written by Anne and Henry Emblem, describing fundamentals of packaging, the first easy-open beverage can was invented in 1962 by American Ermal Fraze.

Functions of packages

Several basic functions are expected for each kind of package which can be described in various forms, although they have similar structure. Basically the expected functions are containment, protection, preservation, convenience and information. There is also a list of additional functions which can be find in publications which can be included: communication, selling, presentation, promotion, environmental responsibility and many others. This shows that if a package is designed to fulfill a special function, it must also endure all basic functions too. When designing and producing these functions must be considered by companies and firms, and also the output is the specific package found in shelves of retailers. Different functions of packages are considered as necessary for each product even though some are being more endorsed by certain manufacturers. Often we see that some packages lacks in one or more of the functions.

After producing goods, the main focus shifts from the end consumer, which seems that package is supposed to fulfill the necessities and requirements of customers may conflict with objectives and goals of the business which have been set by producers. For example coasts, availability, brand image and marketing. Therefore the goals and objectives of the society are considered as secondary objectives. One of the functions that is rarely considered is sustainability. By the current state of the environment, this function must be the first to be considered by the manufacturer and must be on the top of priorities to create less waste and enable consumer to recycle or reuse the package after the consume or unbox their product.


The increase in production and retail sector as a result of advances and adaptation of mechanics and automatic production lines with advances based on technologies in factories offered consumers more products with large variety. Also the increase in demand had effect on environment in form of packaging litter, which triggered creation of citizen’s initiatives to decrease the waste during second half of twentieth century. Packaging literature includes sections dedicated to sustainability with emphasis on status of industry not meeting future requirements due to scarcity which increases cost for non-renewable resources, waste produced, climate change, government regulations and involvement in voluntary agreements. Today, the problem shifts to overproduction and wasting non-used food products after expiry date which also increases package waste. Companies and firms  are going to invest their resources in food sector for production to satisfy customers, seeking profits and aiming to avoid empty shelves. The fact that there is surplus of food products consequently increases food waste because people do not consume all products they purchase. People in USA are using over 50% more resources than in 1975 (Robertson, 2013: 646). Unsolicited product circulation also causes waste in transportation, inventory and human resources that are involved in maintaining product movement across the supply chain even though in the end, certain portion of products is wasted. The influence of waste was a key reason why so called product lifecycle thinking and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) started to be discussed as a tool for assessing and comparing environmental impacts of products already in early 70s (Farmer, 2013: 222). LCA calculations are intended to examine factors during product’s creation including air emissions together with water and energy consumption. Even packing materials that are produced from renewable resource, such as paper have impact on environment in form of deforestation and destruction of natural forests. Using non-renewable resources has also strong influence on habitats starting from mining activities (steel products, petroleum) through processing (emissions), even though for example steel can be 100% recycled. Assessing the product’s life cycle takes into account all influences that are triggered by production. In ideal scenario, each material would be recycled in the end of the cycle, but the reality shows that waste is not reused to its potential even when being separated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *