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US Sustainability in Packaging

US Sustainability in Packaging

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Sustainability in Packaging
Ongoing sustainability efforts continue to significantly impact the US packaging industry. Driven – at least in part – by public pressure, packaging producers and end users are increasingly concerned about the environmental effects of their products. This has sparked a variety of key trends and targets in the packaging industry, such as source reduction, improved recycling rates (especially for plastics) and the increased use of biodegradable and/or compostable materials.

Rising Concerns Surrounding Impending Sustainability Targets
Over the past decade, several major companies in the packaging industry have set sustainability-oriented goals; some of their deadlines come as early as 2025. Reducing the amount of virgin plastics and improving overall packaging efficiency are among the most prominent objectives. However, concerns regarding the feasibility of those timetables have grown. For example, despite significant progress in recent years, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently cast doubt on its major plastic reduction goals by indicating that most participating companies will not meet them. To achieve these sustainability targets, many packaging producers will have to accelerate their efforts or face potential consumer and regulatory backlash.

Paper & Plastic Continue to Dominate Packaging but See Growing Competition
Paper and conventional plastics have long been the preferred materials for the vast majority of packaging products due to their versatility, performance, and low cost. These materials have proven their efficacy across wide ranges of packaging markets and formats. They will continue to see high usage, but also face increasing competition from alternative materials – such as bioplastics and molded fiber – that are viewed as having stronger environmental profiles. Conventional plastic will be hampered by its contribution to problems with pollution and its reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels. Furthermore, wider implementation of reusable packaging will pose a threat to traditional single-use paper and plastic packaging.

Recent Price Inflation Impacts Sustainability Efforts
Recent increases in the price of raw materials have coupled with lingering supply chain and labor availability issues to push the price of many packaging products to record highs. As a result, some end users have switched back to less expensive conventional materials with better availability. However, high material costs have also accelerated efforts like thin walling and the reduction of unnecessary secondary packaging, which reduce the overall volume of packaging material used.

Thus price inflation has, from a sustainability perspective, had both positive and negative effects on the packaging market. While many eco-friendly packaging materials – such as bioplastics – are even more expensive than traditional ones (and therefore pose additional challenges to end users who wish to incorporate them into packaging lines), efforts to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging have helped companies both save money and reduce waste. While prices are expected to moderate going forward, they are expected to remain above historical norms for many materials.

Study Description

This study is focused on identifying key trends in sustainability in the packaging industry. Sustainability trends are analyzed by leading packaging material (plastic, paper, metal, glass, molded fiber) and in terms of packaging producer and end user sustainability goals. Historical data and forecasts for overall packaging demand and key market segments (food, beverage, pharmaceuticals, foodservice disposables, and other markets including e-commerce) are also provided. Additionally, profiles of select packaging products, markets, and materials are highlighted. Consumer survey data related to packaging sustainability collected by The Freedonia Group are also presented.

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