World rigid plastic packaging market set for post-COVID growth, says latest Smithers data

Global demand for PET and other rigid plastic packaging formats will accelerate through the second half of 2021, according to the most recent market analysis by Smithers.

As detailed in its brand new report – The Future of Rigid Plastic Packaging to 2026 – consuming 58.83 million tonnes in 2020, there was only a marginal increase in demand in a year severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Total value in this market will reach $193.2 billion in 2021, up from the $181.9 billion seen in 2020 – a 6.2% increase – as the virus threat recedes and normal economic and retail activity resumes.

Beyond 2021 a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.2% will push the global market to $237.1 billion in 2026 with Asia leading the rise in consumption. Total volume consumption worldwide will rise by 3.5% across 2021-2026 to reach 73.1 million tonnes.

As this happens converters and material suppliers are having to respond to regulatory, brand owner and consumer demands for more sustainable packaging. In the short term this is seeing a focus on securing and using higher percentages of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) in consumer packs; with a particular emphasis on optimising grade purity to allow their use in food contact applications.

There are also moves to adapt better mechanical recycling of other common rigid plastic grades, such as polypropylene (PP), as well as developing new chemical recycling platforms and biopolymer materials. There is also renewed R&D spending for developing superior barrier coating technologies to improve shelf life and widen the applications open to rigid plastic. This will be an important potential differentiator, as plastic packaging faces competition from a new generation of fibre-based designs, developed and marketed on their green credentials.

Across 2021-2026, Smithers’ analysis shows the greatest increase in demand will be for PE, PP, and some specialty plastic blends.

The end-use sectors most affected in 2020 were cosmetics and industrial goods – while use in food packaging remained steady, and there was an inevitable surge for pharmaceuticals and healthcare. Across 2021-2026 use in food and drink use applications will continue to be central to the industry, along with enduring elevated use with healthcare products, and a return of demand for cosmetics formats.

Across this period there will be an increased use of form-fill-seal equipment to meet the need for more single-serve rigid polymer packs, and as more converters embrace the versatility and speed such machinery delivers to converters. Blow moulding will remain the most common production method; accounting for 59.5% of global production by weight in 2021. In contrast, injection moulding and thermoforming will lose market share over the Smithers forecast period.

This complex and rapidly changing market is examined in forensic detail in the new Smithers report – The Future of Rigid Plastic Packaging to 2026 – and includes dedicated analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on current and future demand.

Quantitative analysis is presented in an exclusive dataset for 2016-2026 with over 250 tables and figures, by value and volume. This segments the market across all key metrics:

-Polymer type (PE, PET, PP, PS, PVC, EPS, other)

-Packaging format (bottles, trays & containers, tubs & pots, other)

-Production process (blow moulding, injection moulding, thermoforming, form-fill seal, other)

-Eighteen end-use applications

-Twenty one regional and leading national markets.