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Navigating Supply Chain Challenges in the Sustainable Plastic Packaging Industry

Rolls of polyethylene packaging


In this sit-down with Director of Business Publishing Ltd. Andrew Reynolds, we discussed plastic packaging sustainability and the challenges that the plastic industry is facing in the supply chain. With those challenges, however, come opportunities.

Reynolds draws on his 40 years in the industry to shed light on how sustainable plastic packaging will be a key factor in the industry’s future.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the state of sustainability in the plastic industry?

As the world reconsiders its relationship with plastic, we’re seeing both end-consumers and governments asking for the plastic industry to double down on sustainability. I’m proud to say that the plastic industry has really stepped up in response. The level of innovation and leadership I see is really encouraging.

One of the most exciting developments in the industry is the strong upward trend in demand for recycled polyethylene resin. In fact, demand for it is so strong it’s outstripping the industry’s supply!

Because consumers continue to show interest in reducing plastic waste and using recycled materials where possible, I’ve seen brands trying to significantly reduce their environmental impacts. This is really the driving factor behind this growing tide of demand for recycled resin. 

Keeping up with demand is a challenge, but a good one to have.

Q: What challenges to sustainability do you foresee?

Like I said before, the supply chain is going to be the greatest challenge to the widespread use of plastic packaging sustainability.

I’ll give you an example. Right now, North America is a particularly difficult market to keep up with. The cultural prevalence and ease of online shopping are creating immense demand. As more and more companies try to use sustainable materials, which is great, we’re seeing demand rise at an exponential rate. The sheer number of products and the commensurate glut of plastic packaging moving through the infrastructure every day is astonishing. 

Right now, there is not enough recycled resin to fill the demand for flexible packaging, and prices for recycled resin are surging past virgin resin prices. As the world navigates the early stages of an economic downturn, achieving sustainability and supply chain stability in the near term is unlikely. 

To overcome this challenge, I think the industry will need to innovate in spite of difficult economic conditions.

Q: Can you share some growth opportunities the plastic supply chain could take advantage of?

While the challenges to sustainability are substantial, the good news is that the plastic industry is in a strong growth phase despite the downturn. Consistent profits from our recession-resistant products will help the industry remain a key player in the push for a more sustainable future as we hopefully exit the downturn in the next year to two years.

Demand for sustainable packaging solutions and stability in the supply chain for plastics with recycled content will remain strong. And while we may see a downtick in demand for sustainable plastics as purse strings tighten, expect it to bounce back stronger than ever when the economy thaws. 

As our industry grows in value, it will have new opportunities to invest in sustainability. As one of the largest industries on the globe, the plastic industry will lead the charge in creating the change we want to see. 

If you’re a leader on the fence about investing in sustainability, now is the time to make your move. It will pay to be on the cutting edge because the industry will move toward sustainability one way or another.

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