The History of Packaging
Perhaps surprisingly, packaging has changed the course of human history. Primitive human beings usually consumed food when they found it but quickly realised that it would be a good idea to conserve some supplies for when food became scarce. The earliest vessels and containers were provided by nature itself in the form of animal skins, shells and gourds. Later, leaves and reeds were woven to make baskets and 3,500 years ago the invention of the pottery wheel meant that the making of simple earthenware pots became more sophisticated. Innovations such as these meant that we could develop from a society living hand-to-mouth in a ‘feast or famine’ cycle, into one which could harness food sources and maintain a constant supply of food through its efficient conservation in appropriate containers.
The early Egyptians contributed to the history of packaging when they discovered that the glass they had invented for making jewellery could also be put to good use as far as containers were concerned, in the form of bottles, bowls and other receptacles for conserving food. Wooden barrels, though invented in Egypt nearly 7000 years ago, became popular in the Middle Ages because they could be used for storing various types of food, including liquids such as beer or wine, and were much less fragile than glass or earthenware containers.
The demand for better packaging increased suddenly during the Industrial Revolution when trade flourished and more and more goods became available to the consumer. Then, in the early 19th century a Frenchman named Nicholas Appert invented the can. It was made of glass rather than metal but it was a great leap forward in the history of packaging as it protected food from the effects of exposure to air.
Less than a hundred years later the cardboard box was invented in America. The flat-pack box could be folded out to make a square container that was light, cheap and easy to assemble. Despite being a simple concept, this invention revolutionised the packaging industry.
The 20th century saw the invention of a remarkable number of packaging devices: cellophane made its first appearance between the World Wars and heralded the start of the Plastic Age. Its invention was quickly followed by that of polythene. Aluminium foil, which revolutionised the packaging of pills and tablets was followed by the invention of metal cans which had a very high impact on the marketing of fizzy drinks. Aseptic cartons took over from glass bottles in the milk-packaging industry....the list goes on and on.
Nowadays it is high on many agendas to reduce the amount of packaging for products. It is suggested that much packaging is unnecessary and, in some cases, detrimental to the environment. Nevertheless, research continues apace in a quest to find ever-better, more efficient ways of protecting and conserving food, drink and whole host of other products in effective packaging. Products made with modern technology require protective packaging, fresh fruit needs to be packaged to avoid bruising, delicate glass products need to be packaged to avoid breakages, and so on. Many developing countries today still strive to package their products efficiently in order to minimise loss. The better we package goods, the more effectively we can preserve and transport them, and the fewer of the world’s valuable and limited resources we waste. Perhaps packaging is not just part of the pollution problem but part of the solution too.
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. The earliest vessels and containers were provided by nature itself in the form of __________ skins, shells and gourds.
2. Wooden barrels became popular in the Middle Ages because they could be used for storing various types of food, including __________ such as beer or wine.
3. The demand for better packaging increased suddenly during the __________ Revolution when trade flourished.
4. Less than a hundred years later the __________ box was invented in America.
5. The invention of cellophane was quickly followed by that of __________.
6. Aluminium foil, which revolutionised the packaging of pills and __________ was followed by the invention of metal cans.
7. Many developing countries today still __________ to package their products efficiently in order to minimise loss.
Most forms of packaging are unnecessary. Discuss.
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