Demand for post-consumer recycled plastic packaging was nearly 4.8 million metric tons in 2021 and will see significant growth through 2026, with the food and beverage industry leading the way, according to a report from Smithers.
The report says companies are revising their packaging processes to meet the increase in demand, as well as responding to legislative initiatives and improving technology to advance recycling efforts. The data analysis finds that post-consumer recycled (PCR) packaging will grow at a CAGR of 5.9% during that time and reach a worldwide demand of 6.37 million metric tons.
The Smithers’ analysis tracks current and future PCR consumption across seven polymer types, including PET, PE, PP, PS, PVC and EPS. The report says advanced mechanical recycling systems have resulted in PETs being recycled at the highest rate, and that technology combined with rules requiring a minimum amount of recycled content in PET beverage bottles in Europe, Canada and California will continue to increase the demand.
The food and beverage industry accounted for more than two-thirds of PCR consumption last year and will see the greatest increased demand through 2026. The industry will continue to lead the market, Smithers says, as it continually looking for ways to improve packaging.
Beverage companies, including Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo, have increased the amount of recycled materials in their bottles over the past few years. Fast food restaurant chain Wendy’s has added recycled plastics to their drinking cups.
Personal care and medical packaging also have the potential to play a significant role in the market, according to the report. Examples include an initiative between Solvay and Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials to reuse medical packaging, while 100 personal care brands have pledged to reduce plastic waste by more than 4,100 tons each year, and consortium-based plastic waste company Cyclyx International has a goal to increase plastic recycling across industries to a rate of 90%.
Demand in transit packaging and other consumer segments will fall below the market mean, Smithers says. The report says emerging markets for PE, PCR, and PP will also expand as current barriers are overcome.
As the market evolves, the Smithers report says there will need to be greater investment in collection, sorting and recovery infrastructure. There also will need to be implementation of easier-to-recycle packaging designs as well as the availability of polymer additives to boost processing.
Additionally, many companies are using PCR to help reduce the carbon footprint of their packaging. As technology advances, mechanically recycled PCR will be more able to compete against other sustainable processes, including chemical recycling feedstocks, bioplastics and re-use packaging systems, Smithers says.
Europe is the largest market for PCRs, accounting for half of the world’s consumption in 2021, and will be the fastest growing over the forecast period, according to the report. This is driven in part by legislation such as the single-use plastics directive, the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan and plastic waste surcharges, such as one that went into effect in the United Kingdom earlier this year. Asia’s share of the market will reach 28% by 2026.