Plastic packaging is often categorised into two categories: rigid packaging and flexible packaging. Flexible packaging, the relative newcomer to the scene, refers to packaging that does not have a rigid shape. Flexible packages, which are dominated by stand-up pouches and other soft-sided containers, require less material to produce, resulting in reduced costs and a lower environmental impact.

The rise of flexible packaging has challenged the dominance of rigid packaging, which has been on the scene for much longer. A recent study by global consulting company Frost & Sullivan predicted that rigid plastic packaging would continue to grow as an industry, but that it would have to make some adaptations to remain competitive.

Overall, things are looking up for the rigid packaging industry. The report predicted that a combination of increasing population, urbanisation, and the increased use of plastics in high-end packaging applications would lead to continued growth of about 5.2% per year, resulting in a market worth $166 billion USD by 2022.

The report found two main challenges facing the industry. The first is increasing concern among the public about the environmental impacts of the plastics industry, which has led to increasing regulation of the packaging sector in particular. The second is competition with flexible packaging.

The report made several suggestions for companies hoping to take advantage of the overall growth trend. First, it suggests that rigid-packaging manufacturers work with companies to develop customised products designed to precisely meet client needs. Second, it points out that much of the growth in the coming years will occur in the Asia-Pacific region, where demand for pharmaceutical packaging is expected to grow particularly quickly. A third region of growth is expected to be in food packaging. Increasing environmental concerns, as well as intense competition and changing eating habits in developing countries, have led to a strong demand for rigid packaging designed to reduce food waste and increase shelf life.

The plastic packaging industry has become increasingly regulated in recent years. One policy pointed out in the report as having implications for the global industry is the Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Law recently passed in California, which has the world’s sixth largest economy. Under the law, packaging products must meet one of a few criteria: they must either be reduced in weight compared to traditional containers, contain at least 25% post-consumer content, or be reusable five times. This regulation is emblematic of policy decisions being made around the world in developed economies as environmental concerns become more widespread.

Rigid plastic packaging producers would do well to heed the report if they are to remain competitive.