A visit to any supermarket or almost any retail store provides instant and overwhelming evidence of the unbreakable connection between plastics and packaging. For decades, plastics have been replacing paper, glass, and metal in traditional packaging applications. They have also allowed designers to create new types of packaging that let a product stand apart from its competitors on the shelf. And often, these new plastic packages give the consumer unprecedented functionality and convenience.
Plastic packaging did not escape the global economic slowdown of 2008-2009. Even consumption of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) for bottles and jars was down by about 5% in 2009, following decades of high single- to double-digit demand growth for this material. And now demand is returning.
The Freedonia Group, which monitors global plastics and packaging, forecasts 8.2% annual demand growth through 2012 for beverage containers in China, the country that bounced back fastest from the global economic crisis. Plastic containers, says Freedonia, will continue to lead the market and supplant metal and glass.
Freedonia also says converted flexible packaging demand will rise in China 3.5% annually through 2013, driven by cost, performance, opportunities to source-reduce rigid packaging, and continuing advances in the barrier resins and structures that also propel rigid packaging. Food container demand should grow 3.9% annually through 2013, with bags and pouches constituting the biggest share by product type, and plastic containers being the fastest-growing sector.
In 1960 the earth’s population was 3 billion. By the end of 2011 it will be around 7 billion. Major growth is in emerging markets, naturally, where consumers need more packaging as their lives transition from agrarian workloads to the 9-5 lifestyle of those in more developed markets. The need for innovation will continue to grow, and nowhere more than in packaging. —Matt Defosse & Rob Neilley