Recycled Plastic Packaging a Growing Focus of Corporate Sustainability Efforts

Recycled Plastic Packaging a Growing Focus of Corporate Sustainability Efforts

Across a range of industries, demand for recycled plastic content in packaging is higher than ever and expected to rise at a rapid 9.1% annual rate to 2.8 billion pounds in 2025, according to a new Freedonia Group analysis:

  • Rising consumer concern about packaging and its impact on the environment has driven a growing emphasis on sustainability among packaging and consumer goods suppliers, a large number of which have made public pledges to greatly increase the amount of recycled plastics in their packaging.
  • Packing producer concerns over potential bans of their products – such as the bans on plastic retail bags and single-use foodservice products – is driving many firms to increase use of recycled materials in packaging.
  • Renewed efforts by the private sector to encourage recycling – in order to meet their ambitious sustainability goals – will bolster supply, allowing usage of recycled plastics to grow in a range of consumer goods markets.

Despite this rapid rate of expansion, however, the use of recycled plastic in packaging could be much higher if it were not constrained by supply.

A Number of Hurdles Remain to Broader Usage of Recycled Plastics

There multiple barriers to broader use of recycled plastic in packaging. For instance, currently limited recycling infrastructure and low plastic recycling rates in the US constrain the availability of usable recycled plastics, and, so far, usage of recycled plastic packaging in key FDA-regulated markets is, for now, only approvable on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, there are other ways brands can reduce plastic consumption, such as by shifting away from plastics altogether. Nevertheless, while paper and molded fiber sugarcane are catching on in the food packaging and foodservice packaging markets where barriers for recycled plastics are somewhat higher, the higher cost and performance drawbacks of these materials in many applications will make recycled plastic a more attractive choice for most brands to meet their targets for reducing plastic consumption.

Growth Depends on Changes to Waste Collection & Processing & on Consumer Education

In order to produce enough recycled plastic to meet new ambitious recycled content targets, a number of changes to collection and processing need to be made. To increase the amount of waste collected, consumer education is needed to improve understanding of:

  • the detrimental effects of including unrecyclable waste in the recycling waste stream
  • proper recycling of plastic waste, including which plastics are recyclable

More importantly, systems need to be improved to make municipal waste pick-up easier and more convenient for consumers, particularly at multifamily residences such as apartments and condominiums, which often have not access to on-site collection.

Additionally, plastic waste processing technologies need to be improved to increase the amount of collected plastic that can be converted into flake that can be reused in new packaging. Technology advancements are needed for items that are already commonly recycled – such as bottles and other rigid packaging – but more importantly for products that are not already widely recycled – including flexible packaging, hard-to-recycle plastics, and non-packaging plastic waste. Producers of a wide variety of manufactured goods target discarded plastic bottles as a source of recycled content, but there are not enough plastic bottles produced to meet all recycled content demand.

PET to Remain Most Widely Used & Fastest Growing Recycled Resin

By 2025, PET is expected to account for 55% of recycled resin used in packaging applications. Demand for PET is expected to grow at an above average pace, with double-digit gains boosted by rising use of recycled content in food and beverage bottles, which much meet stricter standards to be food safe. Rising demand for recycled polyethylene, in contrast, will come from use of recycled content in non-food contact applications, which are easy targets for increasing recycled content in packaging because they do not require food-safe certified resins. In particular, rising demand for recycled LDPE in retail and trash bags will be driven by manufacturer efforts to prevent further implementation of retail bag bans by improving the sustainability of these products in other ways.

Want to Learn More?

Recycled Plastics in Packaging is now available from the Freedonia Group.

About the Author: Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.

  Industry Studies      Packaging