Packaging Before There Was Plastic

For those in the packaging industry, the time before plastic is often referred to as the “dark age”, a time so far back that we think of it in a historical way. Today, plastic products touch almost every part of our daily lives.  Without them, life would not be the same.  But how did we manage without plastic?  Well if you go back, paper may be the oldest form of what we refer to today as “flexible packaging”.  Plastic on the other hand is the youngest form of packaging in comparison to other materials like paper, glass and metal.  Discovered in the 19th century, plastic was actually reserved strictly for the military.  Then came the Tupperware ladies in the ‘70s who blew the lid off convenient leftover storage in homes across America. And now, in today’s world, plastic packaging has made products available en masse due to its inexpensive and convenient nature. In fact, the growth of our packaging industry can be directly linked to the rise of plastic!


Can you recall the days when chocolate pudding came packaged in a tin can?  What about when milk came bottled in glass containers?  Not since plastic met packaging!

GTI Sales Manager (and resident packaging historian) Wendy Bello recalls the state of things when she started in the packaging industry over 25 years ago, “Staples and stitching wire were the  primary source for sealing cartons for shipping. It was really frustrating because there really weren’t quality tapes at the time that could withhold the weight of some boxes.  So in every packing house from peppers, limes and avocados, to yucca, oranges and grapefruits you would find all cartons closed with staples.”

Staples posed a risk for the packers and also damaged food.  Wendy says, “These staples were piercing the upper layer of the produce.  Staples would rust and could even penetrate the food product.” In the end, staples became a hazard for the packaging industry, and necessity became the mother of invention.

So tape manufacturers began to produce a higher strength quality of plastic tapes with stronger adhesives that could seal cartons to withstand the rough packing environment and the weight of the product that was being packaged.  This made a huge impact, particularly on the food industry that could now eliminate the risk of injury and food contamination.

Simply put, packaging has certainly changed since plastic’s debut. Factors, such as the needs and concerns of people, competition in the marketplace, shifting lifestyles, inexpensive production materials, as well as discoveries and inventions have contributed to the rapid growth of plastic packaging. And just as no single cause influenced past development, a variety of forces will be required to create the packages of the future. Plus, as leaders in the industry, no doubt GTI Industries will be at the forefront of bringing innovative packaging options to our customers.