Overweight packaging a ‘major concern’, says WRAP

Slashing packaging weights will be the major concern for designers and brands looking for ways to marry effective pack design with sustainability, say packaging experts.

The warning coincides with findings this week of a Local Government Association study that exposed Waitrose as the UK supermarket with the heaviest packaging (see www.designweek.co.uk, 17 February). Waste & Resources Action Programme senior packaging technologist Haulwen Nicholas says, ‘Designers should be looking at eliminating materials usage in packaging, which is the first and most obvious step, but one that has only started to be used recently.

‘Labelling, pack size range, storage advice and packaging designed to keep food fresher for longer can all help to prevent household food waste.’

However, Nicholas admits that heavier packaging can sometimes be more sustainable than lighter packaging. She cites Cathedral City cheese’s zip-shut packaging as a good example of environmentally friendly design.

‘On first sight, people may think that adding a zip is less Green. But, in fact, it extends, the shelf life of the cheese, meaning it is less likely to be thrown away,’ she says.

Meanwhile, Dr Tracy Bhamra, Reader in Sustainable Design at Loughborough University, is attempting to draw together two strands of consumer insights on packaging design and sustainable packaging design.

‘There are currently no products on the market, and very few packs, that have been developed through taking a user-centred approach to sustainability,’ says Bhamra.

‘This is not surprising when you consider that the regulations on sustainability in packaging design are still very reactive, covering aspects like percentage of recyclability in packaging. We could be doing much better.’

Nicholas and Bhamra will develop these views at the Pro2Pac conference to be held in London next month. They will be joined on the podium by Nestlé senior designer Ben Mortimer, among others.

Based in York at Nestlé’s product technology centre, Mortimer is one of a team of ten designers researching and developing global confectionery packaging. He is currently working on a new global design for a Nestlé confectionery brand. He says, ‘We take a long view at the centre and are currently investigating consumers’ emotional response to colours, shapes and sizes of packaging. Consumers perceive certain shapes are more stylish, for example. This research is useful for streamlining the design process and is allowing us to develop much more focused design briefs.

Pro2Pac will be staged at the Excel centre in London E16 from 15-18 March.

Wrap recommendations:
• Designers and brands should start eliminating packaging rather than addressing issues of recyclability alone

• Tesco’s double-concentrated squash comes in 750ml, 100% recycled plastic bottles, saving 1400 tonnes of PET a year

• Heavier packaging can be Greener than minimal packaging if it helps to stop food wastage

• Cathedral City’s reclosable zip option may add weight, but it keeps the cheese fresh for longer, discouraging waste

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