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Understanding packaging design

Climate change and sustainable development are recognised as two of the biggest issues facing society today. It is therefore increasingly important for companies to reduce the environmental impacts of products and services through their whole life cycle. Companies failing to address environmental performance in product design and development will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the global market.

Packaging should be designed to satisfy technical, consumer and customer needs in a way that minimises environmental impact. This means, that amongst other things, packaging should be designed to use the minimum amount of resources for purpose and once it has completed its job, the scope for recovery maximised.

More and more plastic packaging producers are taking active steps to understand what really happens within collection and handling systems for recyclables, and, where appropriate, ensuring their packaging is designed to be recycled.

Based around a key UK and European endorsed design guide (Plastics Packaging – Recyclability by Design), Recoup works with its extensive network of members and contacts across the plastics packaging supply chain to understand and identify the current practicalities of recycling plastic packaging, and represents an important aid for the journey to sustainable production and consumption.


There are wider issues of relevance, both in considering the overall environmental impact of differentiated packaging systems, and in developing efficient operational solutions to recycling and recovery of used plastic packaging.

It is noted that continuing work will be required by many parties including designers, manufacturers, waste and resource management professionals and governments to address these developing issues.

It is important to note that since the packaging market is characterised by innovation, there are specific circumstances where the relationship of packaging production and recycling continues to develop.

There will also continue to be developments in the use of labels, glues and other packaging components. In addition good practices will develop and, changes in regulations will continue.

The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) published in 2008 regulation 282/2008 – ‘recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods’. This extended the regulations to cover any recyclable material, rather than specifically PET bottles. This regulation requires traceability of supply chains for food grade recycling and potential future requirements are likely to increase demands in this area even more. As a consequence this may lead to additional recommendations for designers as well as for those involved in the logistics of recycling to ensure that compliance with the current and future regulatory standards is achieved.

The goal of improving the recyclability of the packaging cannot compromise product safety, functionality or general consumer acceptance and should positively contribute to an overall reduction in the environmental impact of the total product offering. It is recognised also that recycling packaging may not be the most environmentally or economically sound option in all cases. The intention is not necessarily to try and make every piece of plastic packaging recyclable. Each case must be viewed on merit.

However, as the recycling industry grows, collection rates and recycling rates improve, recyclability will more frequently be the most environmentally sound option. Energy recovery or composting are other options to be considered, depending on the nature of packaging and the local solid waste management infrastructure. These recovery routes are complementary and their relative use needs to be optimised to meet local conditions, thereby providing an integrated and sustainable approach to packaging waste management.

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