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Plastic recycling technologies a top priority for packaging industry in 2021 and beyond: Smithers market report finds

Improved recycling, recovery and conversion into post-consumer resin (PCR) are the leading challenges for the rigid and flexible plastic packaging industry through the 2020s a new Smithers report finds. 

Analyzing the current state-of-the-art and future routes to market, Smithers’ latest study – Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies for Recycled Plastic Packaging to 2030 – ranks the top 25 technologies that will redefine the industry over the next decade.

Report author Terry Cooper, says: “Across the 2010s packaging innovation has significantly outpaced evolution of recycling capabilities, technologies and recycling infrastructure. That has to change. With new official targets, brand owner commitments, and post-Covid green economy stimulus packages, recycling technologies will be essential if plastic packaging is not to be sidelined in the future. 

“Our survey shows no single technology can deliver this on its own. A combination of technologies will be required. True success will come only from engagement with stakeholders from across the supply and use chain; combined with a critical understanding of what the technologies can do at each stage.”

Based on an exclusive survey of 30 technical experts and opinion formers it identifies the following leading technical challenges:

  • Commercializing economical chemical recycling processes that convert mixed plastic waste into polymer monomers to supplement existing mechanical recycling
  • For post-industrial and post-consumer streams in mechanical recycling, developing and implementing more efficient and ubiquitous collection, marking and sorting methods
  • Governments introducing ‘producer pays’ regulations for plastic waste; including the use of more consistent rules for prioritizing specific designs and materials
  • The establishment of universal lifecycle analysis (LCA) methodologies to accurately compare the environmental impact of different recycled formats 
  • Improving label stocks and adhesives to make these fully compatible with existing mechanical recycling
  • Optimizing mechanical recycling to deliver cheaper, more consistent PCR supplies
  • Adopting automated mechanical to sort and process flexible plastic films, multilayer constructions, and pouches
  • Innovating to replace multi-material flexible designs with monolayer structures to cut costs and improve recyclability
  • Business transformation in the petrochemical sector, with firms creating new business lines focused on waste plastics and prioritising this over raw-material extraction.

Each of the 25 trends and technologies identified by Smithers is profiled in depth in Ten-Year Forecast of Disruptive Technologies for Recycled Plastic Packaging to 2030

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