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Plastics in packaging -- the 'green' problem.

Plastics in Packaging - the 'Green' Problem

Most marketeers view the 'greening' of Britain as a new marketing tool-permitting the launching and relaunching of products under the banner 'environmentally friendly'. Food manufacturers, however, have had to be more wary when considering packaging needs.

First, the problem of cost rears its head, although recent research claims that this could be offset by capturing the affluent 'green' market. A new Mintel study shows that approximately 27 percent of British shoppers could be classified as green. This kind of consumer will puts its money where its mouth is, paying from 10-15 percent (and sometimes up to 30 percent) more for ecologically safe products.

Secondly, there is the problem of protecting the product. "the green element is obviously important as a marketing edge but at the moment you can only go so far with food packaging", explains Mike Axford, managing director of specialist packaging design consultancy Opus 20 Ltd of 15 Little Portland Street, London W1, tel: 01-636 4915. "And this is clearly shown by our work for one client in particular - Goodlife Foods".

Goodlife began as a small, family concern selling organic, vegetarian products - cutlets, Tofu and Falafel - to the converted, through health food shops.

"Goodlife wanted to raise its profile and gain mainstream distribution, so obviously they wanted to capitalise on the move towards green products which reflected their established, 'healthy' image". And, as packaging design is one of the most cost-effective and immediate marketing 'weapons', we were asked to brand the product accordingly."

Apart from creating the graphic design of the packaging, Opus 20 of Little Portland Street, London W1, considered the packaging materials themselves. Although the use of recycled board for the outer container was successfully obtained at virtually no extra cost, the 'environmentally-friendly' plastics packaging - that is, the controlled atmospheric packing (CAP) - proved elusive.

The primary function of CAP is to protect the food itself, acting as a total barrier to infection, insects or damage. This protective capability is a real necessity, given the often extensive distribution chain, storage period and required shelf-life of many foodstuffs.

Ironically perhaps, one of the best known environmental groups, Friends of the Earth has also expressed its concern about the benefits of bio-degradable plastics. Apart from denying the possibility of recycled material, bio-degradable products would contaminate ordinary plastics, making the recycled material useless - and lead to an increase in litter.

"Bio-degradable plastic packaging is a minefield," agrees Sam Shone, managing director of Goodlife Foods. "We are still looking for a suitable alternative to the PVC-based plastics we are currently using. Tin foil would make the packaging too heavy and even those plastics which claim to be bio-degradable are not really satisfactory. However, although there are more environmentally-friendly plastics - such as polyester - becoming available, there is also the additional problem that bio-degradability could ruin the integrity of the product.

Made with starch, the organic material in bio-degradable plastics breaks down but the plastic polymers remain in the soil. And, if this product is left lying above the ground the breakdown period is extensive, which means litter is still a problem.

A truly bio-degradable plastics has been developed by ICI but it is inflexible and brittle and therefore not the ideal material for packaging! ICI are still experimenting with this innovation but it has a long way to go before it will reach the consumer.

Within the existing limitations however, Axford believes he has fulfilled Goodlife's design brief - as a 60 percent increase in sales seem to indicate.

"Our packaging design for the Goodlife range does reflect its organic approach to healthy eating. The brand identity, with a hand-drawn typeface and the symbol of a sunrise - achieved through a few deceptively simple brushstrokes - gives the pack a fresh and eye catching appeal. And, in spite of the use of recycled paper for the packaging, there has been no reduction in the quality of the printing.

"We are however, very careful about our green claims. Already some companies have had their knuckles rapped for making such assertions on relatively slender evidence. We have no intention of making the same mistake and alienating already suspicious consumers".
COPYRIGHT 1989 Food Trade Press Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Binsted, Howard
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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