Posted on July 9, 2008 by Dennis Salazar

What is Secondary Packaging?

I am often asked what secondary packaging is and why I spend so much time writing and talking about it. Before I try to define it, let me say that the reasons I choose to focus on it are because I believe secondary packaging is a major contributor to our waste problem, because it tends to fly below the eco conscious radar, and quite frankly, because no one else is talking about it.

Primary packaging products are the ones designed for retail applications and usually make direct contact with the product being sold. It may be a paperboard carton, a glass jar or a plastic bottle. Even though we do some basic primary package design in select areas such as shrink over wrap or bagging, there are scores of excellent eco focused blogs, magazines and packaging designers that are almost 100% focused on the primary packaging you see on the retail shelf. Perhaps it is this high consumer visibility as well as volume, that makes it deserving of all the attention it receives.

Equally important though is the enormous amount of secondary packaging that is used to get the product from point A to point B. In a retail situation it typically does not go home with the consumer and it tends to be discarded almost immediately at the store level. It includes the boxes, tape, void fill material and pallet stretch film that was used to get a product to a retail or distribution center. Most of this is properly processed and recycled, which is very good. However, it is my firm belief that much secondary packaging can be eliminated because it tends to be redundant. I promise to write more on that later.

On this post I want to zero in on all the secondary packaging that winds up in someone’s home or office where it is much less likely to be recycled and/or reused. Three shifts have changed the traditional path for secondary packaging and increased the volume dramatically:

1. The fast growing and irreversible trend of E-commerce shopping by consumers because of cost, selection or simply, convenience. We are now all buying everything from Christmas gifts to office supplies online.

2. In response to this consumer demand, even large, upscale, traditional brick and mortar retailers now have their own distribution centers designed to ship product directly to us.

3. The unprecedented growth of home based businesses, often focused on very unique and small but fast growing specialty markets. The proliferation of “green product” e-stores is a perfect example of this.

This is why secondary packaging is important to me but in my next post I will attempt to tell you why it is important to you, especially if you are one of the new breed of specialty ecommerce stores focused on green products.