The Plastics Transformation

plastic pellets what lies ahead 1
From time to time, it’s always good, in any line of work, to pause and test the prevailing winds. There is no substitute for having a sense of where one’s world is headed. In a fast-changing realm like the plastics industry, staying abreast of change is imperative.
 
To help our customers and others interested in this viable, versatile niche of plastics, polymers, resins, and the like, we have researched many weeks’ worth of trends, announcements, and notices from important players in our field. We serve up some highlights in a three-part series intended to cover not just the latest developments in our world, but projections for the next 5, 10, and even 15 years.
 
The good news is that growth is virtually a given. When the topic turns to bioplastics and other new-wave offerings, we find that growth is already exponential. But even in the field of conventional petrochemical plastics, growth is assured.
 
The buzzword today is “Circular Economy.” That’s a term we encountered frequently when we conducted our search. It seems that the corporate world is putting its weight behind this goal. Recyclable, or sustainable, offerings dominate the news in plastics coverage.
 
Meanwhile, when it comes to products announcements or market assessments of the traditional (petrochemical) plastics world, companies are reticent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t aggressively active on that front. It may instead mean that petrochemical-based plastics are not enjoying the same vogue as their bio-based competitors, and companies simply do not wish to tout them—not in 2022, anyway.
Honeywell-New-Tech-Plastics
Avangard NaturaPCR complex in Waller, Texas
In a Feb. 3 article on OilPrice.com entitled “Plastics Will Fuel Oil demand for Years to Come,” reporter Felicity Bradstock observed that as the demand for petrochemicals increases worldwide, energy firms can be safe in the knowledge that if oil demand in some sectors wanes there will still be a use for their ‘black gold.’” That use is plastics.
 
“When we think about oil, we often think about it as an energy source, giving little consideration to the other ways in which it’s used,” Bradstock wrote. “But much of the oil from around the world actually goes into producing everyday products such as clothing, tires, digital devices, packaging, detergents, and fertilizers. In 2018, petrochemical feedstock accounted for around 12 percent of global oil demand. This is a figure that is expected to increase substantially over the next few decades, as experts expect 10 million metric tons of growth in the petrochemicals industry every year between now and 2050.” 
 

Plastics Extrusion

A March 3 report from Valuates Reports finds that the market for extruded plastics is expected to grow at a Cumulative Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.6 percent between now and the year 2030. This niche currently carries a value of $186 billion, but by 2030 will weigh in at $289 billion. 
 
As the article stated, “The extruded plastics market is segmented by material type (polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and other polymers), by application (pipes and tubing, wire insulation, window and door profiles, films, and other types), and by end use (building and construction, packaging, automotive, industrial, and other types).” All these submarkets were assessed. 
 
The researchers found that increased packaging industry application and demand, as well as an increase in the number of construction activities, are expected to drive the extruded plastics market growth over the forecast period.
 

Plastics Injection Molding to Follow Suit

The global injection molding market size is anticipated to reach $398 billion by 2030, according to a March 30 report by Grand View Research, Inc. The market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.8 percent (slightly higher than the growth quotient for extruded plastics) from 2022 to 2030. The market is driven by the rising demand for injection-molded components from various end-user industries since it offers cost-effective and efficient methods for manufacturing high-volume production of parts and products.
 
This market has witnessed growth especially from the medical industry, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, as this product can offer accuracy, a high range of operation, repeatability, and cleanliness. Furthermore, packaging manufacturers leverage injection molding with robotics to run faster production rates with cost-effectiveness.
 
The market has witnessed surged adoption in recent years on account of the manufacturing technology employed for producing complex products. Players incorporate industry 4.0 in their process, thereby optimizing the requirement of raw materials, lowering costs, and increasing automation and flexibility. COVID-19 pandemic had caused supply chain disruptions in 2020, resulting in losses for the service providers as demand from various end-user industries was halted. However, with the infusion of economic stimulus packages, manufacturers have adopted automation to shorten production cycle time, thereby increasing productivity and profits. 
 
The demand for plastic injection molding is witnessing significant growth due to high tensile strength and high-temperature endurance that have led to the increased usage of engineering-grade plastic resins for molded products. Moreover, plastic resins enable a reduction in manufacturing waste, product weight, and overall manufacturing costs. Companies providing molding services are engaged in acquiring the latest technologies to meet the changing demands from the medical industries and increase manufacturing capacity. 
 

Plastics Recycling Will Only Get Bigger

According to a recent market research report published by P&S Intelligence, the recycled plastic market value is set to increase to $124 billion by 2030 from an estimated $59 billion in 2021, at what amounts to a CAGR of 8.5 percent. In recent years, a number of companies have started to collect plastic waste and recycle them into reusable resins and fibers. They include MBA Polymers Inc., Vikoz Enterprises Inc., Phoenix Technologies International LLC, Terracycle U.S. Inc., DS Smith Plc, KW Plastics, PETCO, Custom Polymers Inc., and Waste Connections, Inc.
 
As P&S observes, “In the coming years, the value of recycled packaging plastic sales is set to grow at a healthy rate because much of the packaging is currently designed for single use. With the rising demand for packaged consumer goods, the plastic packaging sector is growing, as is the amount of waste plastic. Additionally, governments in several countries have implemented rules that seek to curb the volume of plastic waste that can’t be recycled.”
 
In the coming years, the highest market CAGR will be witnessed in Europe, which is taking concrete pledges to reduce its plastic waste. As per Plastics Europe, of the around 29.5 million tons of plastic waste collected in EU+27 in 2020, 35 percent was sent for recycling. Moreover, China, once the major importer of such waste from Europe and North America, banned the inflow of certain kinds of plastic waste in 2017 under its National Sword Policy, which has made it imperative for the waste to be reprocessed at the source itself.
 

Plastics Recycling Technology Takes Another Step

Honeywell announced earlier this year announced its intent to form a joint venture with Avangard Innovative to build an advanced recycling plant in Texas. The facility will use Honeywell’s recently announced UpCycle Process Technology to transform end-of-life plastic waste into recycled polymer feedstock that can be used to create new plastics.
Honeywell’s new UpCycle Process Technology reduces the need for fossil feeds in the creation of virgin plastics, with the goal of enabling a circular economy for plastics.
 
Avangard Innovative is the largest plastics recycler in the Americas and will be the first to deploy the UpCycle Process Technology in the United States. Honeywell and Avangard intend to form a joint venture to co-own and operate a facility within Avangard’s NaturaPCR complex in Waller, Texas. The planned advanced recycling plant is expected to have the capacity to transform 30,000 metric tons of mixed waste plastics into Honeywell Recycled Polymer Feedstock per year. Production is anticipated to begin in 2023. 
 

Making the Plastics Switch

Earlier this year, a Dallas-based start-up company raised some $3.25 million in its efforts to revolutionize the food-packaging industry with high-quality, biodegradable plastic alternatives, The funds will help them expand their product offerings and develop their supply chain infrastructure. PlantSwitch was founded two years ago by Dillon Baxter and Maxime Blandin, both graduates of Southern Methodist University (SMU) and alums of the SMU men’s golf team. They strive to offer\single-use biodegradable solutions that function like traditional plastic, and at an affordable price.
PlantSwitch Co-Founders Maxime Blandin and Dillon Baxter
PlantSwitch first launched as a supplier of biodegradable straws and cutlery and plans to introduce numerous other renewable packaging products to its offerings including cups, plates, water bottles, food takeout containers, and cosmetic and CPG packaging products. It is also able to create custom products for large-scale clients. Notable customers include Hillstone Restaurant Group, Pressed, Discovery Land Company, Catch Hospitality Group, Just Salad and The Hampton Social, among others.


Green Packaging Market to Grow as Well

A recent report published by Allied Market Research holds that, globally, the green packaging industry will grow at a CAGR of 6.6 percent between 2022 and 2031. As recently as 2020, this market commanded some $164 billion in business. By 2031, the market will reach $338 billion.
 
Rising awareness among consumers about green packaging techniques and a surge in environmental concerns leading to sustainable packaging developments are the factors that drive the growth of the global green packaging market. 
 
Based on application, the food & beverages segment held the highest market share in 2020, accounting for around three-fifths of the global green packaging market, and is estimated to maintain its leadership status throughout the forecast period. This is due to growth in consumer awareness about health and emergence of substitutes. However, the healthcare segment is projected to manifest the highest CAGR of 7.4 percent from 2021 to 2030. Medicines comprise complex chemical solutions that have the potential to react with the harmful chemicals in the packaging material and destroy the medicine composition. This factor is driving the healthcare green packaging segment.
 

Even Watches Are Getting in on the Act

Casio has introduced its Pro Trek timepiece, which features biomass plastics.
On April 5, Casio America, Inc., announced the latest addition to its Pro Trek line of outdoor watches. The new PRW61 is the first Casio watch to be made with biomass plastics sourced from renewable organic substances. Produced from regenerable resources, biomass plastics are attracting attention as a material that can help reduce environmental impact by curbing carbon dioxide emissions.
As part of its focus on sustainable development goals, Casio is pursuing several environmentally friendly initiatives, including a shift from plastic to recycled paper in packaging for the PRW61. Moving forward, Casio will also contribute to efforts to build a circular economy by expanding its use of sustainable materials in the design of other watch models.
 

Biodegradable Plastics is a Thing—and It’s Growing

According to a March 15 report by Markets & Markets, the market for biodegradable plastics, estimated last year to stand at $7.7 billion, is projected to grow another $23 billion by 2026, or at a CAGR of 25 percent. 
 
Biodegradable plastics are defined as plastics that undergo biodegradation (a process in which the degradation results from the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae). The biodegradable plastics market includes both bio-based biodegradable plastics and synthetic/petrochemical-based biodegradable plastics. The market is witnessing significant growth across the world due to the increasing awareness and stringent government regulations about the use of non-biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastics are widely used in packaging, consumer goods, and textiles, as well as agriculture and horticulture, among other end-use industries.
 
PLA type accounts for the major share of the market in terms of value.
 
PLA is the largest type segment of the biodegradable plastics market, as it is used in various end-use industries such as packaging and bags and consumer goods. PLA is made from renewable resources, and it is compostable as well as biodegradable. It is derived from corn starch (in the United States and Canada), tapioca roots, chips, or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane. This makes PLA non-toxic and an environmentally friendly material. The key applications of PLA are thermoformed products, namely, drink cups, takeaway food trays, containers, and planter boxes. It has good rigidity and allows for replacement of polystyrene and PET in such applications. PLA is being adopted rapidly as it is more economical to manufacture compared to other biodegradable plastics.
 

Petrochemical Still Has a Place

Finally, to come full circle, we share another thought expressed on OilPrice.com, where writer Felicity Bradstock conveyed this caveat: “While researchers are working hard to develop more sustainable petrochemical alternatives, such as bio-based plastics and specialty chemicals, these products are still much more expensive than fossil fuel-derived products. Despite a huge recent drive to develop renewable energy alternatives, petrochemical-alternative production is still in its infancy, meaning that oil and gas firms are likely to benefit from the gap in the market beyond the lifespan of fossil fuel-generated energy.”
 
 

Read part 2 of this series:  Shifting Winds: Plastics Face Big Changes

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