The first packages used the natural materials available at the time: Baskets of reeds, wineskins (Bota bags), wooden boxes, pottery vases, ceramic amphorae, wooden barrels, woven bags, etc. Processed materials were used to form packages as they were developed: for example, early glass and bronze vessels. The study of old packages is an important aspect of archaeology.
Iron and tin plated steel were used to make cans in the early 19th century. Paperboard cartons and corrugated fiberboard boxes were first introduced in the late 19th century.
Packaging advancements in the early 20th century included Bakelite closures on bottles, transparent cellophane overwraps and panels on cartons, increased processing efficiency and improved food safety. As additional materials such as aluminum and several types of plastic were developed, they were incorporated into packages to improve performance and functionality.
In-plant recycling has long been common for production of packaging materials. Post-consumer recycling of aluminum and paper based products has been economical for many years: since the 1980s, post-consumer recycling has increased due to curbside recycling, consumer awareness, and regulatory pressure.
As of 2003, the packaging sector accounted for about two percent of the gross national product in developed countries. About half of this market was related to food packaging.