Packaging As It Has Been Through The AgesJanuary 6, 2020
The need to package things for transport or storage is quite fundamental to life on earth. Squirrels us wood and leaves for packaging purposes, and many other creatures as low on the food chain as insects, have ways of packaging. In modern society science and technology have devoted themselves to improved methods, but even stone aged people were quite knowledgeable. Excavations show that special grass mats were woven to line pits that stored nuts near caves. In fact packaging seems to be a critical feature of life on earth.
It is instructive to reflect on natural methods of protecting and storing seen all around. The flesh around fruit seeds is soft, edible and nutritious. Edible packaging has specific advantages because as a seed matures it may be transported by some creature eating it packaging, and deposited somewhere that it can grow into a new tree. Often seeds are dispersed through digestive tracts thanks to the edible and biodegradable nature of their protection.
Grass and leaves have been used as materials since the earliest times. However, pottery shards indicate how mud or clay was used in early civilizations to make containers that were more durable than grass. They could be lined with wool or soft filler to protect object from abrasion or shaking. Leather was used for keeping precious objects, and also liquids such as water or wine. Here again nature has its way of storing milk in udders or beautiful breasts.
The wooden box or chest was extensively used before the advent of cardboard. Many old boxes are now used as ornaments and fetch astronomical prices on auction sales. But they lacked many of the advantages of the cardboard box. They were much heavier and could not be quickly folded in square shapes and just as easily flattened to make more space.
Crumpled paper is excellent packaging material for fragile items like glasses. It prevents them from shaking and vibrating. Newsprint has already served one purpose and so using it as a filling inside a cardboard box makes a light and safe package.
Glass is a substance that has many advantages as a material for storing and protecting products, especially liquid ones. Until quite recently the clink of glass milk bottles being left on doorsteps was a pleasant awakening for city dwellers. Glass seems to keep contents clean and separate, so that many people will swear that the taste of substances packed in glass is more pure and untainted than those packed in other ways.
The fairly recent advent of various plastics has advantages and disadvantages. Made from synthetic fossil fuel based products plastic can be economically manufactured and extruded into innumerable shapes that enclose products exactly. Bubble plastic sheets can even fit tiny pills into individual compartments that can easily be broken open one at a time
The tin can was invented in the twentieth century. Food and drink containers made of metal were once soldered with lead and were dangerous for that reason, but are no longer sealed off on this way. Food and rink can be stored in these containers for very long periods. An advantage that they have is that they do compose and return to the earth though slowly.
At about the same time that plastic packaging became popular environmentalist pointed to the problem of litter. The environment is despoiled by waste composed mainly of discarded packaging materials. Although this problem has been solved in developed countries by education in places like Africa the population is impervious to education. It remains for technologists to invent custom packaging that has other uses or biodegrades very quickly. Something like the flesh of fruit or the husk of a nut will possibly make an appearance soon to solve the problem.