The advantages and disadvantages of packaging depend partly on a person's role in the manufacturing, marketing and consuming process. To manufacturers, packaging is an added but necessary expense. Marketers see packaging as a design and information opportunity, while to consumers, it's something to discard. Increasingly, many people are encouraging limiting excessive packaging and using more materials that will biodegrade or can be recycled.
Packaging keeps products fresh, reduces breakages and makes shipping easier. It also represents an opportunity for displaying the company's marketing messages.
The primary packaging advantage is to protect the product in various ways, including:
Keeping products fresh longer: Many food products — from bread to cookies — stay fresher when sealed in packaging. For example, bread becomes stale in mere minutes outside of its packaging. Foods that are canned or vacuum-sealed can stay fresh on a shelf for months or even years, while they'd last only days in the refrigerator before spoiling.
Preventing breakage and wear-and-tear: Packaging keeps fluids like ink and perfume from evaporating. Paper becomes discolored and glue unusable when exposed to the air, but keeps for years in its packaging. Items that could be sold without packaging — like stuffed animals and other toys — are shielded from the dings and dirt they encounter during shipping or sitting on store shelves.
Making shipping easier: There are distinct advantages of packaging in logistics. Items that are boxed can be stacked and transported more easily than those that are loose.
Variety of materials: Manufacturers can choose from paper, cardboard, metal and many types of plastics. Metal and hard plastics offer the most protection, but paper/cardboard can provide additional protection inside the package and plastics can be molded to encase products as needed.
On the flip side, packaging has its disadvantages too:
Cost increases product pricing: The more it costs to package a product, the higher the consumer price will be, since manufacturers must pass the cost along to the consumer or make less profit.
Durability of some materials: Generally, the cheapest materials are also the least durable, like paper and plastic. One of the disadvantages of flexible packaging such as paper, cardboard and thin plastic — like those that allow "windows" to see the product — is that they can be crushed, dented or torn during shipping or when handled in the store. Hard plastics and metal will hold their shape and protect the product.
Difficulty of recycling: Recycling is a dilemma for all packaging. Some communities don't provide recycling; those that do require households to follow rules such as collapsing boxes, making sure items are clean of food debris and leaving lids on or removing them, etc. When people don't follow these rules, it requires manual handling of materials which is costly and slows down the process.
Packaging requires extra room in shipping: While square- and rectangular-shaped boxes stack neatly and efficiently, they do take up more room. Packaging increases the size and weight of the product overall, so when shipping large quantities of product, packaging raises the cost of shipping.
Reducing packaging affects perceptions: The push to use less packaging — which saves cost and raw materials — also makes consumers think they're getting less product, even when the amounts are the same, but larger packaging was previously used to give the appearance of greater value.
Packaging is a marketer's creative canvas. It's the ideal surface for placing marketing messages that encourage purchase, information about what's inside, slogans and highlighting the manufacturer's name and logo.
Some plastics are naturally clear or white and can be used as-is by simply molding into the desired shape and applying a colorful label. They can be painted elaborately, or left in their natural state to appear simplistic or "back-to-nature" as a selling point. Plain brown cardboard, for example, is sometimes used for its stark contrast to slick, brightly colored packaging.
Manufacturers have tough choices to make: whether to use materials that are the most durable or the most easily biodegraded. They aim to be good stewards of raw materials — for their own ethics, public perception or both — using no more than is necessary while making their packaging appealing and saving money to keep their product costs from increasing.