History of food packaging
Early in history food was consumed where it was found. With the development of agriculture, families and villages were self-sufficient, producing, making and catching what they used. When packaging was needed, nature provided shells, gourds, animal skins etc. In time, containers or packaging were made from natural materials such as reeds, grasses, logs, bark and animal parts. Grasses and reeds were woven into baskets to store food. As ores and metals were discovered, metals and pottery were developed, leading to other packaging forms. An approximate chronology is as follows:
- > 20,000 years ago modified natural materials grass, reeds, skins
- 8,000 years ago ceramics, amphorae, - developed in the Middle East
- 5,000 years ago wood, barrels, boxes, crates wooden boxes found in Egyptian tombs
- 3,500 years ago mass produced ceramics, pottery invention of the pottery wheel
- 2,500 years ago glass containers, - glass blowing developed by the Phoenicians and Syrians
- 2,000 years ago paper and cellulose fibres - not true paper.
The last 1,000 years has seen many changes and advances in packaging as a result of huge social change. The expansion of trade played a part.
In the 1970s a study of packaging systems in China found that
- 17.5 percent of the country’s cement was lost during transportation; and
- 20 percent of all glass was damaged before it could be used.
Similar findings came out of a study in Russia in the 1980s where it was found that lack of packaging, distribution and storage facilities resulted in annual losses of:
- 45 percent of fresh vegetables as high as 70 percent of potatoes;
- 55 percent of fresh fruit;
- 50 percent of grain;
- 1 million tons of meat; and
- 1.5 million tons of fish.
Notable advances in packaging in the 20th century include
- aluminium foil containers 1950s
- aluminium can 1959
- cellulose packaging 1950s
- heat shrinkable plastic films 1958
- styrene foam 1930 1950s
- PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) containers - 1977