A look at future trends in the flexible packaging industry
Improved living standards will lead to increased access to cars, appliances, and electronics. This is especially true in China, where GDP per capita is estimated to triple to more than $40,000 by 2040, which will be similar to the purchasing power in the European OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 2030.
Outlook for chemical demand growth
These megatrends will lead to an estimated growth in global chemical demand of nearly 45% over the next decade alone, or about 4% a year. This increase is greater than the forecasts for energy and GDP growth over the same period. The effect on the plastics industry is projected to include:
Consumer demand for plastics, fertilizers and other chemicals will grow as incomes increase
Olefins and aromatics are basic building blocks for plastics and other consumer products
Manufacturers see plastics as lightweight, durable materials that can improve product performance, from packaging to automotive parts to medical devices.
Nearly all this growth is expected to occur in the developing world, with two-thirds in the Asia-Pacific region. India and China are expected to each reach middle class populations of more than one billion by 2040, driving demand for packaging and polyethylene (PE), in particular.
Packaging landscape trends
While demand for chemicals and plastics is being fueled by a growing global population and middle class, other trends are affecting the packaging landscape.
Pressure against single-use plastic: packaging value chain players and the public are expected to push for less single-use plastic waste. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, early plastic deselection was experienced at some retailers, especially in Europe.
Once the crisis has passed, a greater emphasis on package safety may be expected, as consumers’ sentiment shifts to “health and protection first”. Potentially this will change consumers’ views on packaging to be more hygiene-focused rather than sustainability-focused).
E-commerce and convenience: the rise of e-commerce and the increasing need for convenience are shaping new B2B and B2C customer expectations. E-commerce and home delivery businesses are experiencing a massive boost during the pandemic, but packages require better impact and puncture resistance because they are handled by more people compared to a traditional value chain.
For example, fresh meat packaging that leaks is the number one complaint in fresh e-grocery deliveries due to seal failure and puncture caused by sharp objects, careless handling, or poor packaging material choice. There has also been a shift from rigid to flexible packaging for liquid products, as enhanced integrity is required with e-commerce purchases.
Intelligent value chain: Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT) are transforming industrial production and creating new opportunities in the PE value chain. Helping to ensure traceability from package production to the final product being placed on the retail shelf, Industry 4.0 is expected to play an increasingly important role in ensuring that the package composition can be tracked, especially when recycled content is included.
Sustainability focus areas
The need for the packaging industry value chain to create more sustainable solutions will, however, continue to grow, focusing on three dimensions of using PE:
“Design for recycling”: solutions that can deliver high-quality mono-material recycle streams which can then be incorporated into various next-step PE structures.
“Upgrading recycle streams”: solutions that use compatibilizers to boost the performance of PE films that have been contaminated with foreign immiscible polymers such as EVOH or polyamide (PA).
“Increasing recycled content”: solutions that allow recycled content to be increased by including ‘booster' high-performance PE polymers to maintain mechanical properties of the final product.
Value chain collaboration is imperative in terms of increasing recycling rates while maintaining performance because the packaging must be functionally effective.
The pressure to develop sustainable solutions that do more with less and can contribute to a circular economy will continue and heighten over time. The collaborative efforts of the value chain in harnessing the power of these three technology focus areas will play a key role in the development of innovative solutions that offer sustainability benefits that meet evolving brand owner commitments, consumer expectations and regulatory changes.