If you thought packaging was complex up to now, it is about to get much more so, due to the impending pressures and possible law changes, around driving sustainability in packaging for our planet.

In some companies, packaging is a dark art, often misunderstood, known only to a few. In others, it is a forgotten entity, only remembered too late in the process and then, it becomes a necessary nuisance. In a growing contingent, it’s more like a sports team; given a clear framework of expectation and is monitored and managed and therefore, it generally performs quite well. Which one of these approaches represents your company?

Packaging needs a champion in your organisation, someone who understands the complexity, terminology and the manufacturing process of the types of packaging you use. In my opinion, this is not just Procurement, Marketing or Production, but someone who can support these departments, to help make the best decisions for your company. A good Packaging Technologist will add value and save you money.

The title of this piece, is an acronym, an aide memoir for Packaging Technologists and the packaging development process.

A Definition of Packaging: “An Economic means providing a product with Protection, Preservation, Information, and Containment, during Filling, Use, Carriage and Sale, with consideration for Environmental and Legal matters.

All conversations and decisions around Primary, Secondary and Transport (Tertiary) packaging should take this definition into account. The chosen packaging itself should be visually and structurally designed and specified to fulfil these various requirements. Not an easy job, but one that brings increased sales and adds brand equity, if carried out properly.


We are starting to see more and more articles looking at the impact of plastics in the waste stream. The difficulties in recycling and segregation and the impact on the environment and possible health implication of micro plastics getting into the food chain.

We mustn’t forget the huge benefits that various plastics and film laminates have contributed to food containment, preservation and lower food costs over the years. However, I agree, it is definitely time for us to rethink our packaging substrates and focus more on sustainability and the environment and a little less on shareholder value!

I am not suggesting we go back to the packaging of the ’40’s, ’50’s and ’60’s, but there is good learning looking back. I am reliably informed by my Chairman, Leonard Little, that we used to have closed loop milk deliveries to our door (I do remember this), where the milk bottle was used on average seven times. Biscuits were sold loose, usually by the pound, and bagged in a white sulphite paper bag. Sausages and rashers were also loose and wrapped in greaseproof paper, as was butter and cheese (cut from 20”x 20” blocks) and fresh fish was wrapped in vegetable parchment (for better wet strength).

“It is definitely time for us to rethink our packaging substrates and focus more on sustainability and the environment and a little less on shareholder value!”.

(Single use plastic items are a huge cause for concern)

In my opinion, retail and food companies need to think a little more sustainably, looking not just at price, but at environmental impact, carbon footprint and sustainability of their packaging choices.

Wikipedia define sustainable packaging as “the development and use of packaging which results in improved sustainability. This involves increased use of life cycle inventory (LCI) and life cycle assessment (LCA) to help guide the use of packaging which reduces the environmental impact and ecological footprint.”


I was impressed to see Iceland’s recent commitment “to become the first major retailer to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own brand products by the end of 2023” (Source: FlexoTech Magazine Jan/ Feb 2018).

I know many of the other retailers are also concerned and in the middle of generating strategies and projects to reduce their plastics use.

This is a tall order, when you look at the great benefits of plastics in terms of filling, preservation, presentation and packaging cost. It is an ideal product in many ways, but not sustainable in its present form and widespread use. There will of course, be situations and some products where for now, there is no realistic alternative; but where there is, we must start to focus on the environment and seriously consider those possibly poorer performing and probably more costly substitutes for the sake of all our futures.

Richard Walker, Iceland MD, and Ian Schofield, Iceland’s Own Label & Packaging Manager, should be commended, for a least drawing a line in the sand and creating focus. It may be a tall order to complete in five years, given the scale of the challenge. There may not be a good enough range of alternatives, but this sort of commitment will drive change. It will encourage their suppliers into more R&D and push their buyers and technical people to consider other substrates rather than stay fixed on the same tried and tested, cheapest pack.

What we need now is more of this type of commitment from other retailers and food manufacturers, which will of course, help to speed up the process still further and with higher volumes of alternatives being used, the prices will hopefully start to come down.

Impending pressures and possible law changes will drive sustainability in packaging for the good of our entire planet.


This all begs the question, how can you have a meaningful conversation and make big decisions about packaging, if you do not have the expertise in-house? To understand the alternatives, you really need to understand the fundamentals of packaging. Do you just rely on your suppliers for packaging advice? Who do you depend on to find alternative packaging substrates and styles? Do you have good people that you could develop and train to add value to your organisation? Why not help them formalise and get credit for their expertise? I think it’s time for the food sector to be more proactive with packaging training and get ahead of the pack (excuse the pun) before the retailers or the Government start laying down the law on what they expect and how they see packaging changing.

In my experience, food sector companies (apart from some of the multinationals) are generally poor at sending their people on elective training, compared to other sectors. I hear you thinking of the cost of training and the low margins and….

“What if we pay for all this training, and they leave?”

“What if we don’t….. and they stay?”
(I’m not certain of the origin of the quote, but Martin Risgaard, tweeted something similar back in 2012, on funding developer training).

There are various courses available, some on-line and others classroom based, in Ireland and the UK for the Certificate and Diploma in Packaging Technology and in-house bespoke training courses – while not accredited – can also help to raise the level of understanding and preparedness. I believe training staff develops loyalty, motivates employees and helps grow your business.

Should you wish to discuss packaging training or consultancy please contact me or The Design, Print & Packaging

Skillnet for the DIT accredited, Level 7 Diploma in Packaging Technology course diploma-in-packaging-technology/ or The Packaging Society

“Retail and food companies need to think a little more sustainably, looking not just at price, but at environmental impact, carbon footprint and sustainability of their packaging choices.”



About David Little

David Little is a qualified Print Technologist and Packaging Technologist with over 30 years’ experience in the print/ packaging sector, across all substrates. These include flexible film laminates, cartons, labels, corrugated and rigid plastics, as well as in Repro/ Brand and printing capital equipment. He has extensive print experience, across all processes and is very involved in supplier audits, press passes, NPD packaging process, SOP development, QC problem solving, brand development, colour control and packaging training (bespoke short courses). David lectures in packaging for The Packaging Society in the UK and on the Irish DIT accredited, level 7, CPD Diploma in Packaging Technology. He is Chair of The Irish Packaging Society and a Board Member of The Packaging Society (UK – IOM3). David is Managing Director of independent Packaging Consultants - Leonard Little & Associates Ltd. (Est 1976).