The main purpose of Lifecycle Thinking is to ensure that changes to one part of a system do not increase environmental impact in other parts. This was one of the drivers for the development of The Responsible Packaging Code of Practice in the UK in 1998 (updated in 2003) by INCPEN, the British Retail Consortium, the Food and Drink Federation and the Packaging Federation.

It was endorsed by the UK Government and the Advisory Body to Trading Standards Officers, who have responsibility for enforcing the UK Essential Requirements Regulations, which implement part of the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC. It has been updated periodically since then.

It gives guidance on how to comply with the Essential Requirements and goes beyond the legislative requirements. It addresses environmental concerns, consumer needs, and functional considerations. In addition, it:

  • challenges the design of existing packaging formats
  • ensures that packaging continues to meet all necessary regulatory, safety and hygiene criteria, and is acceptable to the consumer
  • requires packaging to be designed to protect and deliver goods efficiently, so minimising the wastage of resources associated with the deterioration and loss of the goods prior to their use
  • guides business in minimising the environmental impacts that occur during transport, storage, use and disposal, and promotes design that optimises distribution activities.

It helps businesses to regard packaging as an integrated system of sales (primary), grouping (secondary) and transport (tertiary) packaging, rather than to consider each item in isolation. This is important to ensure that a reduction in one component is not over compensated for by an increase in another.

It sets out a method that companies can incorporate into their own design and specification procedures and includes a checklist to help companies apply Lifecycle Thinking.

The questions in the checklist have been grouped in three sections, covering:

  • choice and design of packaging
  • re-use and recovery
  • transport

In addition, companies should be aware of the source of the materials, energy and water used in its processes and other stages in the product life.

The questions are written predominantly in the context of a user of packaging but some may need to be answered by partners in the supply chain, especially for small companies that use ‘off-the-shelf’ packaging.

The following checklist should result in a series of actions that will optimise packaging and minimise waste, and so improve the environment.

It is recommended that companies keep a record of assessment to demonstrate improvements over time.

Choice and Design of Packaging

Q1.1 Does it conform with the Responsible Packaging Code?

  • Does it meet the main functions required of the pack?
  • Is the presentation honest?
  • Is it convenient to use?
  • Are the instructions, guidance and information clear?
  • Does it meet all necessary legal requirements?
  • Does it meet health, safety and consumer protection objectives?
  • Does it fulfil the Essential Requirements Regulations?
  • Does it meet other environmental considerations?

Often compromises have to be made between conflicting demands. They should be conscious decisions, and it needs to be appreciated that there is seldom an obvious “right” answer.

Q1.2 Does the whole system use the minimum amount of material to maintain the necessary level of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer?

Q1.3 What is the factor or factors that limit further reduction in material use?

  • Is it possible to omit or reduce components?
  • Has the optimum relationship between primary, secondary and transport packaging been achieved?
  • Is the relationship between the volume of the contents and the volume of the packaging optimum?
  • Can a change in design allow a reduction in the size or weight of the packaging while maintaining its capacity?
  • Can less material be used by modifying the volume sold eg more sales units per box, larger portions, bulk or even loose? (This may be constrained by the requirements of Directive 80/232/EEC on the ranges of quantities and capacities permitted for certain pre-packaged goods)
  • Can less material be used by changing the physical nature of the contents or by using an alternative material?
  • Are pallets being used to the maximum eg are the dimensions of the primary and secondary packaging adapted to the pallet dimensions?
  • Would there be a benefit from using re-usable pallets supplied through a pooling system?
  • Are additional materials such as intermediate layers, shrink wrap, adhesives, tapes all necessary?
  • Can the distribution system be modified in a way that could reduce the amount of energy, packaging or cost?

Q1.4 Are specifications and information available for all the materials making up the packaging?

  • Are the specifications optimum eg can certain components be strengthened or weakened to reduce overall use of material?
  • Has the use of recycled materials been considered?
  • If present, is the combined concentration level of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in packaging or packaging components, which can be released from the packaging to have environmental impact, less than 100 ppm? Is the packaging exempt from any of these requirements? Is their presence avoidable?
  • Is information explicitly required about the heavy metal limits on purchase contracts of packaging materials?
  • Does the packaging contain any other hazardous substances, as defined by appropriate legislation that might be expected to cause problems when the used packaging is re-used, recovered as energy or material or disposed of in landfill?

Q1.5 Is the packaging produced in-house?

If not:

  • Is there a procedure to specify the packaging material requirements jointly with the supplier?
  • Is there a method of checking if packaging materials have been damaged or lost between producer and customer?

If so:

  • Have steps been taken to reduce packaging production waste to a minimum?
  • Can the environmental efficiency of the production process be improved?

Q1.6 Can losses during the filling or packing process be reduced?

Has material or packaging loss been discussed with the machinery or packaging suppliers?

  • Have there been tests to identify an optimum balance between filling rates, loss of contents and loss of packaging?
  • Are the packs always filled to the design fill point, taking into account the nature of the contents, any headspace requirements and any relevant legislation such as the Measuring Container Directive 75/107/EEC?
  • Is packaging waste that is produced during filling recovered as a material or as energy?

Re-Use and Recovery of Energy and Materials

Q2.1 If part, or all, of the packaging system is intended to be re-used, is it physically capable of being re-used and is there a system in place for re-use?

  • Can the original pack be re-used at home for the same purpose if the contents are also made available in a less robust type of packaging eg for liquid detergents, spices, biscuits?
  • Is the packaging designed so it can be adapted and re-used for other purposes?
  • Is a system in place so that the packaging can be reconditioned and used for the same or another purpose when designed for that purpose?
  • Is the final user informed about re-use opportunities?

Q2.2 After use, will the packaging be capable of being recovered either as a material or as energy or as compost?

  • In order to encourage recycling, have messages or logos been considered where they are appropriate?
  • Has the package been designed to facilitate the easy separation of different constituent materials for ease of recycling?


Q3.1 Is the packaging delivered by the most suitable route in terms of noise, urban congestion, etc.?

Q3.2 Can the average weight of deliveries be improved?

Q3.3 If the packaging is returnable, can it be made collapsible or minimised in some other way to reduce transport volume during the return journey?