Woman pours household sustainable plastic packaging into recycling bin

Converters Navigate Push For Sustainable Plastic Packaging from Brands

Sustainability is a primary focus for company leadership. Providing sustainable packaging alternatives and maintaining eco-friendly operations are a few ways converters can support brands in reaching their goals.

By Shell Polymers on Jun 28, 2021

The polymer industry undergoes constant change and innovation. With new technology and products entering the market, converters and brand owners alike need to keep tabs on industry developments to maintain a competitive edge. However, the pandemic, and the ripple effect it had on the nation’s economy, shifted the priorities of plastic converters and their approach to operational challenges.

That’s why Shell Polymers conducted a thorough evaluation of market forces affecting converters in its latest report, The Business of Plastics. This report is tailored for plastics converters and leverages analyses from credible sources like McKinsey, National Institutes of Health, Deloitte, Harvard Business Review, IBM, and more.

Here’s a sneak peak at a few of the sustainable packaging trends our team uncovered in our research:

Two sustainable plastic packaging trends impacting the plastics industry

1. Sustainability Comes Second to Sanitation Following Pandemic Era

According to a survey by the Service Management Group, 84% of consumers who ordered takeout and delivery since the pandemic began agreed that packaging sanitation is an important consideration when placing an order at a restaurant.1 This means that brand owners will struggle to use popular materials for sustainable packaging like paperboard since it can’t hold up to the rigorous sanitation processes consumers are using on goods entering homes. This trend favors the use of 100% recyclable plastics like high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for packaging applications, versus less sanitizable alternatives like paper.

2. Major Brands Are Using Plastic for Sustainable Plastic Packaging

Coca-Cola North America is also reimagining sustainable plastic packaging with caps made from recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic – a beverage industry first – on DASANI bottles. As this trend continues to develop, converters must find ways to make plastic packaging more recyclable and recoverable to align with brand owners’ sustainability goals and consumers’ expectations. With so many brands setting 5+ year sustainability and recycling commitments, 100% recyclable plastic like HDPE will be critical to helping them meet those goals.

How Plastics Companies Can Commit to Sustainable Operations

Active participation in industry initiatives like Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) is another way to demonstrate commitment to a more sustainable future alongside brands. Companies in the plastics industry (i.e., chemical and plastic manufacturers, plastics converters, waste management companies, etc.) that take the OCS Blue pledge agree to report incidents involving the loss of plastic pellets, flakes, or powder, among other best practices for reducing loss on-site. Commitments like these bring transparency to their operations, solidifying their sustainability efforts with brands who choose to collaborate with them.

As part of its mission, the AEPW brings together top minds from across the plastics value chain to innovate plastic waste reduction. A founding member of AEPW, Shell is a proud supporter of their cause through the development of pyrolysis, a chemical recycling process that converts plastic waste to liquid feedstock. Shell is already using this liquid feedstock in its plant in Norco, Louisiana to produce chemicals that their customers will then use to make furniture, medical equipment, home applications, and even smart phones. In addition to using it, Shell is continuing to innovate and advocate for pyrolysis in the industry.

While sustainability initiatives may look slightly different than anticipated at the beginning of the decade, they are still a high priority for companies. Download the full report for the latest research on consumer sustainability trends, how it impacts brands, and what it means for plastics converters.

Polymer Trends: How Industry Shifts Will Affect Polyethylene Production

Delve deeper into these industry changes with commentary from our Polymer Pros and Pioneers

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1 https://hospitalitytech.com/drive-thru-dominates-prem-study

2 https://www.packworld.com/design/package-design/article/21204924/colgate-packagings-day-has-come

3 https://www.coca-colacompany.com/news/dasani-launches-recycled-bottle-caps

4 https://www.opcleansweep.org/pledge/ocs-blue/

5 https://www.shell.com/business-customers/chemicals/media-releases/2019-media-releases/shell-uses-plastic-waste-to-produce-chemicals.html