You don't have to go that far back in time to come across a time when local grocer's shops would package everything up in brown paper bags for us to take home. Shopping was a pleasure that came with a personal touch. We weren't inundated with a plethora of plastic bags, plastic and polystyrene packaging and reams of cling film with no environmentally friendly way of disposing of them. Even people did become slightly more aware of environmental concerns it was then decided we shouldn't chop down trees for paper bags, but use this other rubbish instead.
Better communication systems and more choices in travel meant that people were spread further and further across the country. On top of that the population was growing at an alarming rate. This gave birth to the necessity for larger shops and more mass produced food that could be harvested, prepared and onto the shop shelves in as short a time as possible. It was also necessary to find a way of storing the food for longer, preventing contamination and making it last longer.
Of course, this would have been done originally in a factory by workers but at the end of the day, it simply wasn't a quick enough method and packaging machinery was called for. Machines were built that could prepare food and package it in a much more clinical and hygienic way, thus leading to less contamination but at the same time, fewer jobs as not so many people were needed to run these machines.
As time has gone by, packaging machinery has required less and less input other than the initial set up. Now, most packaging machinery comes equipped with its own on-board computer and after a few minutes programming by one person, it is set to run through more food preparation and packaging in one day than one person could carry out in a month. This has meant more job losses.
On top of this, we now understand more about the environmental impact that this non-recyclable packaging has on the environment. Landfill sites full of food packaging that takes forever to rot away are having a detrimental effect on the very air that we breathe.
Dyes in the printing on the packaging are also causing problems. Some of this packaging is shipped to other countries for an attempt at recycling but the material has to be washed and stripped of its dye first. This then runs into the local water system causing further pollution but sending the problem to a different area is just no good.
So, are we looking at a time that will see us going back to the days when food was packaged in brown paper? I, for one, hope so. The Americans have the right idea. Their groceries are packed in strong, recyclable paper bags. Not only are these good for our planet but have you seen someone carry them? Without handles, you have no choice but to carry the bulk of the weight in front of you in your arms. This is the correct way to carry a heavy weight.
Many a time I have seen women struggling back from shops with heavy plastic bags at their sides, pulling them down to a stooping posture and cutting into the hands. This is bad for the hand and arm joints, it is bad for the shoulders, back and neck and can cause lasting damage. A sensible bag that can be carried in the correct way and would not be harmful when disposed of has to be so much better than ruining our bodies and environment with this plastic rubbish. Even if it does mean the loss of packaging machinery.
Environmental expert Catherine Harvey looks at the way packaging machinery will be needed less and less in future.