In Hong Kong, the proportion of the population aged 65 and above is projected to double from 15 percent today to 31 percent by 2041. To better serve senior citizens, the Hong Kong SAR has earmarked HK$1.04 trillion of public money to spend on non-residential elderly services. However, when it comes to making life safer and more comfortable for the elderly, it is not only about additional services but also ensuring that things can be used easily by them in daily life.
Companies are researching and developing new products to fulfill these needs. For example, special buttons designed to let the elderly easily button a shirt. Some stoves have an automatic switch-off function to prevent overheating. There are new fridges that alert their users when groceries expire to avoid food poisoning.
Besides product design, packaging also matters. Many seniors lack physical strength, and some may have arthritis or disabilities. They may find it difficult to open even a water bottle, grab a package or take off a closure.
Designing simple and easy openings is an opportunity to differentiate. More and more companies are aware of the needs of elderly when designing product packaging. From the selection of packaging materials to new packaging features, companies continue to improve design to address cost-saving, usability and safety challenges while meeting the needs of the elderly.
Nowadays, paper has become a prime packaging material, as it can address the various challenges in packaging. Apart from being light and flexible, through various innovations, paper can also be reinforced and made waterproof, and an extra lining can also be added to keep its contents fresh. Paper packaging can provide adequate protection to products while still being easily opened.
A wide range of products now have moved to using paper packaging for the reasons mentioned above. For example, many elderly found that it is difficult for them to grip the cap firmly in order to open plastic bottles usually used to store milk or juice drinks. Today, many rectangular cardboard boxes are used as containers because it can be made waterproof and rigid enough to hold liquid. The opening system "Helicap", designed by Tetra Pak with a larger diameter and a rotary closure, also allows easier opening of cardboard packaging that rival plastic packaging in the beverage.
The end of life is also important. With waste management becoming an issue in Hong Kong, paper and cardboard, provided that they are sustainably produced, have many advantages. The cardboard bricks, which are traditionally more difficult to recycle due to their laminated layers, is also experiencing a boom thanks to the development of new technology and recycling capabilities. Paper producer Asia Pulp & Paper has recently introduced Foopak grease carton, an alternative to laminated layer, which can be easily recycled without the need of additional treatment.
In the race towards finding and inventing a real packaging solution, there have been many successful initiatives towards improving the “openability” of products packaging. Amazon launched its Frustration-Free Packaging range in 2008 with just 19 items - today the range stocks more than 80,000 goods that are free from wires, plastic and the usual trappings.
It is wonderful that we are living longer but to truly savor our extra years the world must be accessible and inclusive. In the context of packaging, this means something that is flexible, strong and easy to open. Paper, once considered too delicate for packaging, has become a gateway to easy-to-access packaging that can make life easier and safer for the elderly.