A study examining packaging's environmental impact balanced against its essential functions and providing hard evidence on the last century's progress in designing more "resource efficient" packs has been published by PIRA International and the University of Brighton.

The “Packaging’s Place in Society” study was undertaken as part of the Biffaward Programme on Sustainable Resource Use, with funding by Biffaward and financial support from Valpak, the Packaging Federation and Amcor Flexibles.

The Executive Summary concludes that while consumer choice has massively increased – there were 40,000 product lines in supermarkets in 2002 compared with 2000 in the 1960s – and that “more choice means more packaging”, the evidence suggests packaging “almost always has a small environmental impact compared to the product it contains”. The study cites examples showing that most products are not “overpackaged” and argues that under-packaging causes product damage and significant wastage.

Catfood packaging is one of numerous examples used to show that packs have become more resource efficient, with the average weight of packaging required to pack a cat’s daily food requirement having fallen from 71 to 46g between 1993 and 2002.

Packaging Federation ceo Ian Dent adds: “Our industry has defended itself against ‘overpackaging’ charges for years, but studies like this put weight behind the rhetoric.”