It is practically impossible to precisely pinpoint when the concept of packaging was first developed, but many agree that it has been in action long before man had set foot outside of Africa. As early humans were always on the move, following a nomadic lifestyle, they were forced to come up with effective solutions to store and transport the surplus food that they would find.
The first packaging designs were probably very simple, comprised of large leaves from trees and vines. Those that hunted animals could also make use of animal skins as packaging alternatives.
From The Forest to The Farm
When mankind adjusted to farming, large nuts and hollowed out gourds were also added to the list of items that could be useful for packaging, thanks to their durability and ease of procurement.
This was important since the development of fixed communities increased the need for larger and more abundant forms of storage and safer transportation methods. The growth in the number of villages also paved the way for advancements in packaging in order to supply food for winter and protect goods from curious pests.
Often, forms of packaging varied from location to location depending on what materials were available. In some places, woven sacks and baskets came into use, while clay and ceramic pots and vases were quite common packaging items elsewhere. Occasionally, wooden crates and boxes were available in more advanced communities.
Developments like that of paper—invented in ancient China—continued progression. Centuries later, paper would play a critical role in packaging products.
A Transparent World
As villages expanded to become cities with complex trade, new specialized forms of packaging had to be created. For example, blown glass coming in many shapes and sizes was used to store luxury items, such as alcohol and fragrance. Roughly during this same period of time, the wooden barrel was invented. As a result, a large-scale increase in the packaging industry occurred and suddenly people were able to transport a far greater volume of goods than ever before.
The dawn of the industrial revolution and a new hunger to create—and ship—an infinite amount of products, heralded further improved methods of packaging.
As people began migrating en masse from the farm to the city in search of a better life, a reduction in the need for bulk packaging and an increased desire for cheap, smaller packaging products in larger volumes became apparent.
By 1812, canning was being used on an industrial scale for packaging and preserving food items. Modern forms of folding cartons were being used shortly thereafter around 1817. In 1839, the English invented the corrugated box and in 1884, consumers could take advantage of the commercial paper bag. In order to stay competitive during the rise of capitalistic markets, a development of cheap and reliable printing methods was essential for companies to label their packaged products and promote their brand.
The Birth of Convenience
Upon the arrival of the 20th century, newer materials such as aluminum and plastic began to be used in packaging, providing even greater functionality. The invention of polyethylene (PE) in the 1960s quickly changed the industry and became the common packaging material for many items in the form of bottles, bags, jars and more.
Today, humanity depends almost entirely on plastic packaging products for their convenience and low cost. Yet, since plastic is non-biodegradable, its massive usage has lead to a number of environmental problems. As we have done many times in our history, we must continue to innovate and find new alternatives that not only improve packaging, but also help to keep our world beautiful. Otherwise, we may not be around to continue packaging it.