We recently came across an article published in the BBC titled “How to solve the plastic packaging paradox.”  It does a great job tracing the history and invention of cellophane, it’s many early purposes including “wrapping chocolates, perfume and flowers” and the early challenges in getting it to perform so that it was moisture-proof to really protect the products it was wrapping.

The invention of cellophane coincided with a major shift in the way consumers were grocery shopping. The process of buying groceries was moving from an ordering process to becoming much more DIY as we experience it today. The see-through quality of plastic as well as its ability to keep foods fresher longer, was a huge advantage.  It provided “a significant impact not only on how consumers purchased foods but also on how they understood food quality.”  Shoppers didn’t have to handle all the food, they could see it for themselves and make judgments.

Cellophane and plastic wrap developed as different needs developed.  A self service meat counter that could sell a great deal more product required developments in plastic that preserved the natural color of the meat so it looked more appetizing in the package. Cling was added later to a different formulation to create Saran Wrap.  High density plastic was developed and used for plastic milk containers.

And plastic, with its many properties and layers – including stretch and cling – became the perfect way to wrap and contain unit loads for shipping and transport.

Today, as so many companies are rightly pursuing sustainability goals and are looking for ways to reduce waste, packaging – and plastic packaging in particular – are targeted for reduction.

As the BBC article points out:

About a decade ago, one UK supermarket experimented with taking all its fruit and vegetables out of their packaging – and its food wastage rate doubled.

And it’s not just shelf life – what about waste created before food gets to the shop in the first place?

Another supermarket, stung by criticism for putting apples in plastic-wrapped trays, tried selling them loose from big cardboard boxes – but so many were damaged in transit that the approach used more packaging per apple actually sold.

With the testing capabilities we have at the Packaging Solution Center, we’re able to help our customers use the least amount of stretch wrapping possible to still protect their unit loads during transit and storage. Optimization is the key to using the best properties of plastic wisely.

It seems clear the solution will not be no packaging – it will be better packaging, dreamed up in research and development labs of the kind that gave us moisture-proof cellophane all those decades ago.

And this is what we’re working toward everyday at the Solution Center – smarter, better packaging.