The Worldpak conference, currently being held in Michigan, US, has brought to the fore the potential of the world's packaging industry.
"It's the little recycled bits of paper crushed into a container to hold a dozen eggs that you can drop on the floor and they won't break," Joseph Coates, former president and chief executive of Coates & Jarratt in Washington, told more than 300 experts from the packaging industry at the opening ceremony. "I don't know who invented this egg crate. What's that guy's name?"
With that tidbit, Coates, a renowned futurist, began weaving a tale about how the packaging industry could change by 2025. Companies worldwide could begin using only metric measures on items such as milk.
His presentation kicked off WorldPak 2002, a five-day conference focusing on issues affecting the $400 billion (€405 bn) packaging industry.
The conference at Michigan State University is co-sponsored by the university's School of Packaging and the International Association of Packaging Research Institutes.
Among Coates' predictions: Although there's a trend toward making packaging biodegradable, the industry should focus on making packaging reusable.
"Take a manufactured good. Something's wrong with it? Fix it, replace it, have it sent back to the manufacturer," he said. "They are going to have to deal with reclamation . . . of anything that weighs more than 25 pounds and costs more than $200."
The ever-growing global economy will affect the way products are packaged. For instance, Coates said metric measurements will become the global standard as companies begin to realise that it is easier to manufacture one universal product size.
Families worldwide will continue to turn away from traditional three-meal-a-day routines to grazing on food all day. Coates predicted this will cause the packaging industry to create more single-serving containers in order to maintain freshness.
As for issues within the packaging industry, Coates said more attention needs to be given to the universal consumer as opposed to the individual. He said too many packaging companies today get wrapped up in cutting costs or increasing efficiency without taking an interest in the consumer.
"One of the things you have to do in your system is jump over your customer (big business), go past your customer, and understand what the ultimate consumer is actually concerned with."