Looking back to the future of packaging

TerraCycle Include USA Loop Kroger
Despite being a certified millennial, I am late to the bandwagon on many trends — listening to podcasts being one of them. Though I have dipped a toe into the vast sea of podcast programming this year, I spend a lot of my “listening hours” on the podcasts of yesteryear — vintage radio programming. These shows are fun to listen to not only for the classic comedy routines or noir-style whodunnits, but also because of the commercials. You can learn a lot from advertising. Case in point: I recently binge-listened to several seasons of “Casey, Crime Photographer,” sponsored by the Anchor Hocking Glass Co. — “the most famous name in glass.” Of all Anchor Hocking’s advertised products, what I found most interesting were spots promoting glass jars for baby food or fruits and vegetables, and others introducing the “revolutionary new one-way no-deposit bottle” — not because I’m fascinated by glass, but because of the insight they give on packaging trends throughout the decades. Glass was promoted as a clean, safe, convenient vehicle for baby food that allowed concerned mothers to examine the quality of the product within as well as easily store any leftovers for baby’s next meal. Glass, according to Anchor Hocking, enabled America’s food producers to preserve summer’s bounty of fruits and vegetables at “the peak of freshness” for consumption in the winter months, especially during a world food shortage. And the one-way no-deposit bottle meant you didn’t have to haul all your empty beer bottles back to the store — you could simply toss them into the garbage pail with everything else. In the post-WWII era when rationing and materials conservation were no longer necessities, throwing a single-use glass container away probably felt like a small luxury. Today, however, we’re on the other end of throw-away culture, and the global conversation on packaging has shifted back to reuse as sustainability becomes more important. Kroger, for example, is piloting products in reuseable glass or metal containers through a partnership with Loop and TerraCycle. Since glass isn’t really practical where fresh is concerned, produce companies are seeking to reduce the amount of plastic in packaging or make it easier for consumers to recycle paper and plastic packaging elements. At the same time, a recent study shows 72% of consumers either don’t mind buying produce in plastic or prefer to do so, compared with 17% who say they try to avoid it as much as possible. Since consumers today — just like those of the 1940s — put a high value on convenience, my guess is plastic packaging isn’t going to go away anytime soon. However, if both e-commerce and sustainability efforts continue to reshape how people buy things and how companies do business, I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, we hear advertisements on podcasts for the revolutionary new returnable, reuseable, refillable strawberry clamshell or pear pouch bag — “simply consume the fruit, send the packaging back to the shipper, and receive a refilled container, all with the click of a button.”