The rise of consumer culture immediately made the demand for bottled and jarred packaged goods a huge trend throughout the industrial revolution. Now that consumers could preserve foods longer than ever before, manufacturers began looking for cost-effective ways to ship these goods.
As grocery stores began to replace the local market and big-box retail displaced mom-and-pop shops, bottled and jarred packaged goods began to change. Initially delivered in glass, these packaged goods began to use new materials such as plastic and even ceramic in some cases.
The rise of plastics, in particular, is noted for a marked shift in consumer attitudes towards goods they purchased and how they were delivered. This new, relatively cheap material largely displaced bottled and jarred packaged goods that used glass, and consumers, increasingly accustomed to cheap prices for packaged goods (especially food) in the United States began purchasing these items over those bottled and jarred packaged goods that used glass. Interestingly enough, the material that was at one time the industry standard, glass, came to be associated with luxury or high-quality goods. In the current era, driven by health concerns as well as increased awareness about what plastic does to the environment, more and more consumers are turning back to bottled and jarred packaged goods that use glass.
There are many reasons for this and, when compared with other options, there are a lot of advantages and disadvantages of bottled and jarred packaged goods that use glass.
I’ll discuss a few of them here and why bottled and jarred packaged goods manufacturers are turning the clock back to glass over the cheaper, but environmentally unfriendly, plastic.
Bottled and Jarred Packaged Goods:
One of the major advantages of jarred and packaged goods, no matter what material they use, is that they are safe and hygienic. Typically produced through processes that are strictly controlled and regulated by machines, packaged goods give manufacturers and consumers uniformity and reliability of products that they can turn to time and time again. In many ways, jarred and packaged goods are as much of a component of modern life as computers and other advanced technology in that they literally make it possible.
Packaged and jarred goods allow manufacturers to ship numerous products over vast differences to wildly different climates and geographies with the end consumer receiving a product that is consistent and universal enough in a presentation to be basically the same no matter where it lands. Food-borne illness and other concerns are largely a thing of the past in much of the industrialized world and this is due, in large part, to packaged and jarred goods.
While not all jarred and packaged goods arrive in a reusable format, many do. In some parts of the world, it is quite common for a consumer to buy a durable container for their product and then refill it in a plastic bag or less substantial packaging.
The idea here is that the consumer can reuse the durable bottle and save a little bit of money by refilling it with a package of new products. This is often seen in shampoos and conditioners, among other things, and is a popular way to reduce packaging waste while also passing on the savings to the consumer. Jarred and packaged goods containers are also regularly repurposed for storage, whether of food or miscellaneous items.
A popular example of this is found in the reuse of glass fruit jars. When consumers reuse packaging, the amount of waste sent to a landfill is decreased and thus the impact on the environment is mitigated.
Demerits of Bottled and Jarred Packaged Goods:
Even though so many bottled and jarred packaged goods use reusable materials, consumers rarely take advantage of this option. This results in landfills brimming with durable waste that will sit around for hundreds of years. When talking about plastics and other manufactured materials, there is also the concern about chemicals leaking into the soil over time and infiltrating groundwater, among other things. Environmentally-unfriendly packaging is also harmful to wildlife and, generally, disrupts ecosystems where it is dumped. A growing and prevalent problem in the industrial world and beyond, sustainability advocates are constantly pushing for new, biodegradable materials to mitigate consumers’ lack of recycling.
The problem here is twofold: Because of the increased cost associated with shipping things in glass, plastic is popular though both materials degrade slowly with the latter potentially adding a chemical component to the mix but, meanwhile, modern society isn’t really possible without the widespread availability of bottled and jarred goods. A solution to this problem has to thread the needle between environmental concerns while also maintaining the portability and hygiene that modern packaging offers. As we shall soon see, developing new and novel solutions presents its own unique challenge.
Cost of Product
Developing a new packaging material that meets all of the needs of the consumer and manufacturer has one important hurdle holding it back and that is cost. New solutions are often expensive. After all, glass production is thousands of years old and plastic, while relatively new, is a known art all over the world. Both methods utilize widely available resources and tools, benefitting from a global network of suppliers and experts to help with everything from design to distribution. When companies develop new material, they often run face-first into this great wall of sunk costs.
Even when using a relatively common material like paper, manufacturers find it difficult to match the costs of traditional materials like plastic hence why paper straws are still way more expensive per unit than plastic straws even though the technology for making paper is, itself, much older. There is more of a vested interest in plastic straws, cutlery, and so on than there is in using paper so the latter tends to be more expensive thus contributing to a vicious cycle in which the bad practice is reinforced by the introduction of suggested reforms. And now that glass is considered a mark of “luxury” or being a more “high-quality” product, manufacturers are going to be reluctant to utilize that over plastic without the concomitant price increase for fear of ruining the material’s cachet in the market.
But, if companies do, the price of products packaged in this way will increase and this penalty will not be born by the manufacturer but rather by the consumer thus further disincentivizing either party from embracing more sustainable, though likely more expensive, consumption methods.