Lightweighting is not the definitive answer to the environmental problems associated with packaging but it can certainly help. Any product that cannot be fully recycled should be made as lightweight as possible. Reducing land fill (along with carbon footprint) is the ultimate challenge that lies ahead for the packaging industry. Regardless of its weight, a lightweight non-recyclable product will still be disposed of in a land fill site; a heavy but recyclable product does not have this problem. Although, Coca-Cola has just cut the weight of its cans by 5% will consumers notice the change and does it make that much difference? 5% equates to a around a 0.005mm reduction in the width of a can which can already be recycled.
A real example of lightweight packaging making a difference can be seen in the way milk is packaged. UK retailers are now beginning to sell milk in bags rather than bottles, significantly reducing the weight of packaging and more importantly the bags can be recycled. However, whether UK shoppers will accept the change remains to be seen. In Canada, where the technology was developed more than 30 years ago, 60 per cent of fresh milk is now sold in bags.
The challenge is to develop new packaging materials that revolutionize the industry but before this can happen consumers must be ready to accept a change in the way goods are packaged. Shopping culture in the UK leads us to buy ‘traditional’ packaged products and we tend to be fearful of anything new. It took a leap of faith for Coca-Cola to offer an alternative to its iconic glass bottles when it introduced lightweight plastic bottles, what we need now is a similar approach. Rather than making things lighter, the industry needs to be developing alternative forms of packaging that are 100% recyclable and preferably re-useable.