Design for optimised resource use aims to reduce the amount of natural resources utilised for producing the packaging materials. At the same time, the amount of material entering the waste stream at the end of their life is reduced, thus decreasing the environmental impacts.

Approaches to achieving a design for optimised resource use include

  • Re-use solutions
  • Use less material
  • Use of recycled material
  • Use bio-based materials

Despite their differences, each of these different approaches ultimately addresses the same aspect: they minimise the impact on the environment from feedstock and packaging material production. This includes energy consumption and related CO2 emissions, the extensive use of natural resources and possible emissions of substances harmful to the environment.

A balance between overpackaging and underpackaging needs to be found with regard to the protection of packed goods.


Re-use solutions means developing a multi-use system in which packaging is returned to the filler and then refilled there. Since the benefit of packaging is generated multiple times, the resource efficiency (the ratio of resource use to benefit generated) of the natural resources used for producing the packaging increases significantly. 

At the system level, this can mean developing a functioning multi-use system that ensures packaging is returned by the customer and used multiple times. The environmental benefits gained by economising on material, however, need to be weighed against additional resource needs of the return logistics, including cleaning the used packaging to avoid adverse environmental effects. Studies show that it is safe to assume that no adverse effects will occur from an average of around ten rounds onwards.

At the packaging level, this means designing the packaging to allow it to be used multiple times under the conditions of the multiple-use system.

Using less material means designing the packaging so that it requires less material while still maintaining its key functions. There are different ways of achieving this.

At the system level, more efficient transport solutions, e.g. decreasing the number of steps in the loading process or a continuous cold chain, may allow material reductions without hampering the protective function of the packaging. Refill solutions where lower functional demands are placed on the refillable packaging than on the disposable packaging can also be a practical way of implementing the optimisation approach here.

At the packaging level, reductions in wall thickness can help. Changing the size of the packaging (e.g. eliminating unnecessary headspace), adapting the dimensions of the packaging (a better ratio of surface and volume), or improving the interaction among primary and secondary (and possibly tertiary) packaging as well as alternative material combinations with enhanced barrier functions may facilitate this material reduction.

Using recycled material means substituting recycled materials for (primary) packaging materials. Recycled (or secondary) materials usually have a smaller environmental footprint resulting from their pre-production compared to primary materials. Using secondary materials is an important contribution to a circular economy, as it is the final step in closing the material loop.

At the system level, this requires evaluating whether recycled material may be used for primary packaging under existing legal requirements and whether the necessary volumes of recycling materials of an adequate quality can be ensured.

At the packaging level, this means substituting primary packaging material with recycling material while ensuring that possible differing technical characteristics and existing legal requirements are taken into account by modified design solutions.

Using bio-based materials means that bio-based plastics are selected, thus reducing the utilisation of non-renewable resources. Bio-based plastics may, however, have some other negative environmental impacts (e.g. land use conflicts, impact on biodiversity etc.) that need to be considered. These aspects covered by the Eco Design strategy element “Sustainable Sourcing” in greater detail.