2012 Plastics Packaging Predictions

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Plastics Today
Tony Deligio

Bag bansbottle backlashwrap rage…in terms of public perception, 2011 was a year many players in the plastics packaging realm would rather forget. But as the new year begins the old year’s battles are far from finished, with plastics fighting to hold on to packaging ground it long ago won from glass, aluminum, and paper. Plastic in many applications will no longer be able to stand on its own; only by emphasizing lightweighting, renewable content, recycled content, or spoilage impact, will plastics be able to continue to grow market share in packaging.

1. Lightweighting in primary packaging has run its course: Anyone who’s handled a bottled water lately knows that brandowner and packaging suppliers’ work to lighten their products has reached a tipping point. Any less material in today’s water bottle, for instance, and the transformation from rigid to flexible package is complete. As a result, look for brandowners and retailers, at the vocal behest of their customers, to start targeting wasteful or unnecessary secondary and tertiary packaging, reexamining goods from the case, carton and pallet level, all of which could mean continued changes for the primary packaging component.

2. Plastics bags and bottles will remain embattled: In cash-strapped governments around the globe, where economic uncertainly and hyper-partisanship have paralyzed nearly all other legislating, bag bans or bag taxes seem to be the one piece of legislation that city councils, state houses, and national governments the world over can pass. Almost every day in 2011, my inbox received news of either a new bag ban or a status update one on currently being passed. Plastic bottles have been getting their own attention as well of late, with Grand Canyon National Park weighing a bottle ban for 2012. This will not stop in 2012, and will likely increase until the law of unintended consequences kciks in and consumers and legislators realize some of the shortfalls of paper and cloth bags.

3. Biobased PET takes the lead : Led by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the bottling industry has effectively pushed biobased polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into the lead of the group of materials hoping to replace petroleum-based plastics in bottles. Biobased replacements for PET, including polylactic acid (PLA), ultimately couldn’t unseat PET due to end-of-life concerns over recycling or processing difficulties, while attempts at upping recycled content in the bottles were undermined by the lack of a reliable supply stream of post-consumer PET. Coke and Pepsi’s work to create a 100% biobased PET will have broad ramifications for the burgeoning bioplastics market, with non-fossil fuel routes pursued for all those base resins that have established themselves within various markets, including packaging.

4. Recycled content will increase : Apart from the bottle push, recycled content, more than biobased materials, bill have an increasingly important impact on packaging, with brandowners proudly displaying to the public any recycled content in their packaging, and in the process solving two problems: resource reduction and end of life. The use of recycled content will be buoyed in 2012 by advancements in sorting/shredding/cleaning technology as well as increased collection.

5. Industry association/supplier efforts to address litter will increase : Industry trade associations, resin suppliers, and plastics packaging manufacturers have seen the enemy and it is litter. To that point, these groups, which already announced anti-litter campaigns in 2011, will continue to do so in 2012. Continued increases in fossil-fuels, and all their derivative products, including plastics, will drive home the fact that plastic packaging is not a throwaway material.

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