Reduce, reuse, recycle' has been taken to heart by environmentalists. But by trying to reduce packaging, are we making it harder to use?

The over-50s now account for 45% of total consumer spending. Yet the ability of this age group to open packaging is considered a marginal issue.

"I can't remember the last time we had a project specifically addressing openability for an fmcg client," says Martin Bunce, founding partner of structural design consultancy Tin Horse. "The issue of inclusive design for people with disabilities is usually a bit of an afterthought."

Shelf-life, tamper evidence and the environment are considered more important than openability, and efforts to reduce the weight of a pack can remove features that make it easy to handle and open, he says, citing the growing use of pouches and flexible plastic packs.

"Some refill bags are notoriously difficult to open and close," he adds.

In 2008, Dairy Crest started a project to look at removing the handle on one and two-pint bottles of milk. Wrap estimated the weight of a plastic milk bottle could be cut by 10% by removing the handle. Nampak Plastics, which makes Dairy Crest's milk bottles, worked with Help the Aged to test the impact of removing the handle. The tests showed the elderly found bottles with a handle easier to find, lift, carry and pour.

The trend for smooth iPod-style designs exacerbates the problem, says Bunce. "We haven't yet found a balance between helping consumers understand how it works and making it look beautiful."

Focus On Packaging