05/25/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/25/2023 15:18
New state mandates and changing consumer expectations are reshaping the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industry. Across sectors, packaging producers face growing pressure to find alternatives to the "use once and discard" model that has long defined many of their products.
While there is yet no federal law governing single-use plastics or a national mandate for recycled plastic content, a spate of new state laws is pushing plastics producers to reimagine their industry's value chain. Most of the emerging policy frameworks focus on reducing use of virgin resins of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in CPG packaging.
To meet emerging mandates for PET and HDPE recycling, CPG producers will need to redesign their products, adapt their supply lines, and develop new expertise in materials selection.
Anticipating consumer demands and emerging regulation, some of the largest CPG producers - including Unilever, Nestlé, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and others - have made public commitments to 2030 target reduction goals. To meet these goals, they're continuing to make forays into lightweighting (i.e., using less material), incorporating recycled plastic content, and launching biodegradable designs of popular, staple consumer items such as beverage bottles and chip bags.
As these regulatory and consumer forces build in the coming years, how will CPG producers need to retool their operations to source recycled content and rethink single-use plastic packaging?
Due to plastic packaging's pervasiveness, the CPG industry is uniquely positioned to shape the future of reuse and reduction of virgin plastic resin. Plastic reuse and plastic source resin reduction, however, do not necessarily proceed hand-in-hand. While industry associations seek to boost the collection and sourcing of recycled plastic packaging, sustainability advocacy groups lobby for reducing the production of virgin resins, which are the raw building blocks of plastic packaging.
In reality, to meet recycled packaging mandates, the CPG industry will need to focus on both - both the use of virgin PET and HDPE thermoplastic polymer resins and the sourcing of recycled content.
Known by its resin identification code #1, PET is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family, with optical qualities and the ability to be manufactured in reduced but still functional thicknesses used frequently in single-use applications, such as water, soda, and food containers for peanut butter and honey. Around 25% of PET bottles are recycled. Yet recovering useful material through mechanical recycling poses operational and contamination concerns. The second life of recycled PET bottles is often as polyester thread and fiber for clothing and carpets or as stuffing for life jackets and pillows.
Known by its resin identification code, #2, HDPE is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyolefin family. HDPE is a leading CPG reuse candidate due to its simple chemical structure and low surface energy, which significantly reduces contamination risks through reuse. This easy to manufacture, durable plastic is used to make milk jugs and crates, detergent containers, and cooking oil bottles, as well as children's toys. Recycled HDPE is used to produce bottles for automotive chemicals and plastic lumber for picnic tables and decking.
Leading CPG producers have already released limited lines of water and soda bottles that use 100% food-grade recycled PET plastics. Yet mass production of entirely recycled bottles will continue to elude CPG producers due to the low commercial availability of food-grade recycled PET and recycled HDPE in pellet form. Facilitating the smooth transition of both materials and value across the entire plastic supply chain - from post-consumer waste collection through recycled product manufacturing - will be critical to addressing this gap.
To meet emerging mandates for PET and HDPE recycling, CPG producers will likely need to redesign their products, adapt their supply lines, and develop new expertise in materials selection. As they seek to scale up alternative processing methods to meet consumer demand and new state regulations, formulators, manufacturers, and other CPG stakeholders will benefit from assessing their packaging operations in light of certain key considerations and opportunities: