Plastic’s Place in Packaging

The plastics industry holds a highly influential role in society today. Plastic’s use has grown exponentially since commercial inception in the 1940s, bringing with it rapid innovation to improve and modernise society and public health.

Global consumer demand for plastic packaging exceeded 2.2 trillion units in 2018. In packaging, plastic has a ubiquitous and strong presence in the grocery aisle. Plastic presents a lifestyle-convenient, lightweight and resource-efficient solution with strong durability and versatility attributes. Flexible plastic packaging, PET bottles and thin wall plastic containers are the most common plastics and globally rank among the top five most common pack types for retail purchases.

Regionally, Asia Pacific leads, both in consumption and production of plastic, with consumer demand for products packed in plastic surpassing 1 trillion in 2016.  Largest onward gains for plastic packaging will be derived from Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Africa, supported by a growing, organised retail infrastructure. This regional growth comes alongside a broader global trend of consumers opting to buy smaller packs for health, on-the-go convenience and affordability.

However, despite the widespread success and use of plastic packaging, the recovery of said material for recycling or re-use has not progressed at the same rate, and the current sustainability spotlight on plastic packaging clearly speaks to this. There is rising awareness and concern about the volumes of plastic polluting the natural world and, as such, a valid call for action on the impact of plastic waste.

The focus on sustainable packaging and on plastic waste is here to stay, and plastic packaging has never been such a talking point, as that witnessed over the past two years, is just as important this year, if not more so. The durability of plastic packaging (long noted among its strengths), is being scrutinised because of plastic’s lasting presence, as waste polluting the global environment.

Concerns about plastic’s sustainability credentials came into sharp public focus in 2017 when reports stated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up as marine pollution, pushing plastic high up the public and commercial agenda. Pivotal milestones continue to mount pressure for change and include the United Nations’ Environment Plan, the EU’s European Plastics Strategy (with more targets via the recent Single-Use Plastic Directive) and a myriad of corporate and government announcements, among others.

Consumer response, alongside NGO and legislative measures, continues to apace and effect change as regulators implement initiatives, targets and taxes, targeting plastic. Corporate change is in action across consumer goods, services and packaging supply industries with many continuing to develop and expand upon their sustainability achievements and commitments relating to plastic. The consumer push for a plastic-free society has also gained momentum, and the desire for a plastic-waste free world will grow.

A growing awareness of our impact on the environment and desire to protect it is no longer a niche concern as an increasing number of consumers seeking to buy and live more sustainably.

To learn more about the role of plastic in packaging, download Kisaco Research’s full Q&A with Euromonitor International’s Head of Packaging Research Rosemarie Downey, and use code EUROMONITOR10 for a discount on registration to the Sustainable Packaging Investment Summit.