THE NETHERLANDS, Utrecht. Plastic packaging is a good material: it’s cheap, and it has great properties. For one, it's very sturdy. And exactly this also poses one of the key issues for plastics: its degradation takes centuries and leads to environmental challenges in the process.
One example is marine litter: an estimated 8 mill. t of plastics end up in the oceans every year. This, however, is largely due to a lack of sufficient infrastructure to collect, sort, and recycle plastic packaging globally, as well as a lack of consumer responsibility. In fact, the global recycling rate of plastic packaging is estimated to be no more than 5%.
In the past 12 months or so, countless stakeholders – from consumers, investors, and NGOs to regulators – have been calling for a move toward more sustainable solutions, such as the increased use of recycled feedstock in plastic packaging. Rabobank expects that this will lead to a shortage of recycled plastic resins which, in turn, will lead to different business models – in particular, more integration in the chain with recycling activities.
Despite the growing level of concerns and anti-plastic packaging measures being taken around the world, demand for plastic packaging units continues to grow steadily, largely driven by Asia. This is a result of several factors, ranging from the inherent positive properties of plastic packaging and demographics to the growing popularity of convenience food and e-commerce. Indeed, humanity has become highly dependent on plastic packaging – and for many reasons, simply replacing all of it with other materials won't be an option in the future. Therefore, not only does the industry face a lack of infrastructure today, but the potential negative environmental impact will also be exacerbated.
The number of companies who are launching ‘sustainable packaging policies’ in response to public pressure to curb single-use plastic packaging is growing daily, especially in Europe. Each strategy differs, although most companies have embraced a target of increasing the share of recycled material in plastic packaging.