What’s next for the rigid plastic packaging market?

What’s next for the rigid plastic packaging market?
In a new market report - The Future of Rigid Plastic Packaging to 2022 - Smithers Pira forecasts that global rigid plastic packaging consumption will be worth $166 billion in 2017, and exceed $200 billion at the end of its study period in 2022. Volume consumption of rigid plastics globally will reach 52.9 million tonnes in 2017, and is projected to grow over the next five years at an annual rate of 3.7% to 63.4 million tonnes.

Rigid plastic packaging market expansion will continue to profit from the drive to replace traditional materials – principally glass and metal - with lighter weight, more cost-effective and higher performance plastic materials in various markets. This transition is being accelerated by concept innovations - such as the clear plastic can. Developed by US-based Milacron, the ‘Klear Can’ technology is aimed at transforming the canned food preservation industry, saving weight and allowing a better display of premium tinned goods on supermarket shelves.

Despite these opportunities, this packaging segment is also dealing with challenges. None of these is more disruptive than the emergence of flexible packaging types, and the growing importance of sustainability.

The importance of sustainability

Sustainable packaging is an overarching megatrend with particular implications for the rigid plastic packaging industry. There is mounting public pressure on brand owners and retailers to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging. The response has been to address package via:
  • Light-weighting – reducing material usage without impairing pack performance
  • Increased use of recycled plastic feedstocks
  • Investigating the use of bioplastic packaging.
Brand owners are employing more recycled and recyclable plastic packaging to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. Bioplastics are a popular choice for brand owners seek to showcase their environmental credentials more demonstrably. In practice the different approaches can be combined.

For example, Unilever announced in January 2017 that it has committed to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The company had already committed to reducing the weight of its packaging this decade by one-third by 2020, and increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025.

Companies across many end-use segments are increasingly recognising that sustainability in packaging is a core value, rather than a one-off sales and marketing opportunity, while retailers are now offering biodegradable packaging for a wide range of produce, including fresh foods, organic and private label brands.

Emerging technology

Technology is playing an important role in rigid plastic packaging market development as it competes with rival packaging types. Several of these directly affect the environmental impact of the pack or product inside
  • Bio-based plastics, including 100% bio-based PET bottles, are expected to enter commercial production and establish significant market share over the next five years
  • Producers have developed considerably lighter plastic packaging in recent years and opportunities remain for further lightweighting of plastic packaging
  • Improved barrier solutions enable further penetration of rigid plastic packaging into applications such as fruit juices, milk, wine and hot-fill food jars, reducing emissions during transport.
From a marketing perspective, the further penetration of digital (inkjet and toner) printing systems for beverage bottles and new concepts like no-look and interactive labels are pushing innovation in key segments, such as PET carbonated soft drink bottles.