By thinking about packaging size and shape, major environmental gains can be made, says Renee Wever, who will defend his thesis on this topic at Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands) on Monday 5 October.   This is a different focus than recycling, the traditional method of environmental savings which hasn't really worked out.

Smaller-sized, more easily handled boxes require less transport and the Dutch packaging industry alone is worth billions of dollars annually. More cleverly designed packaging options could result in significant savings, suggests Wever.   According to him, there are also considerable environmental benefits to be achieved, though by focusing on different aspects than usual.

Wever notes, "In thinking about packaging and the environment, most people exclusively consider the amount of material used, and waste material produced. This is what people try to reduce. But my study reveals that true gains can be made by concentrating on the transport aspect – namely by choosing smaller-size packaging and/or a more easily stackable shape. This allows more products to be placed in a container or truck, significantly reducing transport costs and the associated impact on the environment.

"The thing is to make a solid, integral assessment in the packaging design phase. Marketing considerations sometimes lead to large, flashy boxes. People think this will help draw huge attention to their product on the shelves, and distinguish them from the competition, leading to better sales. If you then calculate that maybe as much as 1 euro per product could be saved in transport costs by choosing a slightly smaller and/or handier packaging size, now, that attracts some serious attention. One euro savings on the cost side is already extremely interesting for some products."

Wever specifically targeted consumer electronics, such as TV sets, and performed research at companies including Philips. Supplemental research further supported his conclusions about packaging, showing they also roughly applied to other consumer goods, such as toys and furniture.

"In general, you could say that companies have paid too little attention, or too late, to their packaging. It is remarkable, given the enormous sums of money involved. In my opinion there is a real need for specialised packaging designers. These experts should understand design and styling as well as the underlying technical packaging and distribution aspects. Such people are now quite few and far between."