Consumer electronics, which can often be fragile and sensitive to weather conditions, must be protected during shipment to avoid damage from impact or contact with inhospitable weather conditions. Once placed on shelves in retail centers, packaging serves as a theft inhibitor, especially in the case of small electronics; retailers have embedded anti-theft devices in packaging materials for many years.
Processed food, produce and beverages all must be packaged in food packaging. Toys on shelves in retail centers are always carefully packaged, often in blister packaging to allow for examination of the product while still in its packaging. Medications require special pharmaceutical packaging in order to remain safe for human consumption. Office supplies, snacks, sporting equipment and even bulk consumer packaging supplies must all be enclosed in product packaging.
Because of the extensive range of products that require packaging (which includes nearly every product in existence), an equally wide range of packaging products must be available to accommodate them. Packaging is divided into three categories. Primary packaging is material that makes direct contact with a product; it can be a bag, film, bottle, can or any other packaging material.
Secondary packaging is designed to group multiple primary packages together or provide extra protection for primary packaging. Cardboard boxes, for example, are commonly used to enclose groups of smaller, packaged materials. Finally, tertiary packaging is used for bulk handling, warehouse storage and shipping.
Pallets and large boxes are examples of tertiary packaging. Different varieties of packaging material can be subject to rules, standards and regulations depending on their contents. Packaging produced for medical, pharmaceutical, food and beverage applications are strictly regulated by the FDA, USDA, CE and ISO; product packaging for such applications must be manufactured in a sterile environment.
Packaging for other uses can also be subject to regulations. Tertiary packaging like pallets, for example, must be carefully rated for load-bearing capacity; companies must be able to depend on their packaging to transport their products safely.