Will the plastic packaging market stand strong as the sustainability trend rises?

Compared to various packaging materials, the preference for plastic packaging has been rising worldwide, since plastic packages are easier to manage and are lightweight. Likewise, even renowned manufacturers are shifting toward plastic packaging given the lower production cost.

Plastic containers have gained high importance in various industries like cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and beverages, and food. Innovative filling technologies along with the introduction of heat-resistant packaging materials have given way to many possibilities in the market. While the popularity of PET bottles is quite apparent, cosmetics, beverages, detergents, and sanitary products are mostly available in polyethylene (PE) bottles.

The European Union is working on transforming the plastic industry with its focus on circular economy principles. The Plastics Europe 2021 report suggests that in 2020, nearly 11.5 million tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste was gathered and recycled outside and inside Europe.

Facts about plastic dumps worldwide:

  • The population in India is around 1.2bn, out of which around 0.43% makes use of a plastic packaged water bottle, almost every day. Every day, around five million bottles utilized in mineral water packaging are sent to bins.
  • Every nation around the world consumes around 7bn units annually. So, 17.56 plastic bags or covers are used every day, in one country. From a global standpoint, a Cuban makes use of approximately two bags per day.
  • The disposal of plastic bags counts over 500bn every year but less than 2trn. This means 1.6 million disposals almost every minute.
  • An average family of size of four accumulates almost 60 plastic bags in only four trips to grocery stores.

Why are plastics gaining importance in the packaging industry?

Plastics are in great demand for various benefits they provide, including:

Durability – The presence of long polymer chains in plastic raw material makes it tough to break, which means high durability.

Hygiene – Plastics packaging is considered the best for packaging of medicines, pharmaceuticals, and foodstuffs. It is usually filled and then sealed with no need for human intervention. The materials utilized, plastic raw materials as well as additives, cater to every food safety legislation at European Union and national levels. Plastic products are largely utilized as medical devices that come in contact with most body tissues while conforming to the top level of safety in life-saving applications.

Security – Plastic packaging is developed and utilised with child-resistant and tamper-evident closures. The pack’s transparency allows the users to assess the condition of the content before the purchase.

Safety – Plastic packaging remains shatterproof without fragmenting into hazardous shards even if dropped.

Freedom related to design – The properties of plastic materials along with the various processing technologies used in the packaging sector, ranging from thermoforming to blow and injection molding, facilitates the manufacturing of a countless number of configurations as well as pack shapes. In addition to this, the expansive lines of colouring options along with the ease of printing as well as decoration support brand recognition and give information to the consumer.

Light Weight – Plastics packaging products boast of considerably low weight while still being sturdy. Therefore, the items packed using plastics can be easily lifted and handled by the consumers as well as personnel within the distribution chain.

Sustainability and Plastic Packaging

Plastics packaging facilitates energy saving

Given its lightweight property, plastic packaginghelps with energy saving while transporting any number of packed products. With less fuel usage, emissions are reduced and costs are therefore saved for retailers, consumers, and distributors.

Plastics packaging means prevention of food waste

More than 50% of the overall amount of food that is wasted in the United Kingdom (UK) originates from homes. People in the country throw away around 8.5 million tonnes of drinks and foods from their homes annually while over half of this is the drink and food that could have been consumed. This food wastage costs an average household around £490 per year, surging to £698 for a family with kids, which is the equivalent of nearly £68 a month.

The sealability and durability of plastic packaging help safeguard the goods from germs and other forms of deterioration while elevating their shelf life. Plastic-sourced modified atmosphere packaging helps foster the shelf life from five to at least 10 days, which means that the food loss in retail stores drops from 18% to 5%.

Plastic packaging ensures carbon savings

Plastic packaging accounts for only around 1.8% of the total use of oil and gas. The chemicals used in plastic raw materials are sourced from by-products of the refining process that otherwise have no other major uses.

While most of the oil and gas are used in heating and transport, the value of those utilised in plastic production is bolstered by the plastics’ recyclability as well as their recovery potential of the energy content when their life ends in waste-to-energy plants.

Plastic packaging in food industry

Food packaging is one of the biggest users of plastics. Rigid plastic packaging is in great demand in the food sector, progressively replacing conventional materials like metals, glass, and paperboard, given their impressive properties, including reduced cost and lightweight. ​​

The heightened sales of a variety of bakery products worldwide have been favourable for the flexible plastic packaging market. Flexible plastic packaging helps bolster the shelf-life of the product while preventing chalky bread conditions. With more than 84% of baked goods available in flexible packaging and the majority of the bakeries creating an extensive line of buns, rolls, and bread, including gluten-free and specialty, plastic packaging developers are coming up with innovative solutions that cater to every consumer demand.

Future of plastic packaging

The surging prevalence of organised retail, especially in emerging countries will ensure a bright future for the plastic packaging industry in the following years. The packaged food and beverage industry will be witnessing strong growth in subsequent years, considering the evolving lifestyles of consumers, rise in the urban population, surging economical activities in developing countries, and the enhanced popularity of e-retail.

The emergence of innovative and creative packaging solutions like modified atmosphere packaging, active packaging, bioplastic packaging, and edible packaging should also open lucrative avenues for the plastic packaging market in the years to come.