Plastics Growth in the Food and Beverage Industry
Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, food and beverage is one of the fastest-growing industries globally. This growth is being encouraged by the shift in lifestyle as a result of lockdowns, quarantines, and limited social activity, as well as consumer preferences for ready-to-eat, frozen foods, and processed foods. As result, the plastic packaging market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 4% from 2020-2027.1
According to the EPA, the containers and packaging sectors used 14.5 million tons of plastic in 2018,2 with a large portion going towards food and beverage plastic packaging. Commonly used for plastic film applications because of its low cost, versatility, and barrier properties, LLDPE accounted for 46% of the PE film demand in 2019 and is projected to be the leading plastic film resin through 2024.3
Commissioned by the American Chemistry Council, research firm Trucost conducted a study4 comparing plastics with alternative packaging materials including aluminum, paper, and glass. One of its key findings was that for food packaging specifically, 4.6 times the amount of alternative materials is required to do the same job as plastics. As such, using a polymer like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) for food packaging can be a prime choice for brands to improve the bottom line. In addition to the amount of material needed, there are other characteristics that make polyethylene ideal for food and beverage packaging, including strength, durability, light weight, and cost-effectiveness.
For example, an HDPE rigid milk jug can weigh as little as two ounces, but it is still strong enough to carry a gallon of milk.5 This shift to rigid plastic packaging came as part of a purposeful reinvention of the way milk is brought from farms to consumers. In the early half of the 20th century, milk used to be delivered to customers' doorsteps in glass bottles. However, glass is heavy and fragile, which made safe transportation difficult. If glass bottles were used today, a standard 16 oz bottle could easily cost over $2.00/bottle, including shipping, versus the approximate $0.60 per plastic bottle.6 To address this, the classic paper carton with a protective plastic layer was introduced to the dairy industry in 1915.7 Finally, in 1964, the patent for plastic milk jugs8 disrupted the market, promising to extend the product’s shelf life but also provide brands with a safe and cost-effective way to transport it.