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Posted on May 16, 2024 by  & 

Examining the Sustainable Plastics Landscape at NPE 2024

The global plastics industry converged in Orlando, Florida, in the first week of May for NPE 2024, the first edition of the largest plastics trade show in the Americas in six years. With over 50,000 attendees and 2,000 exhibitors, many sectors and types of companies were represented, from plastic resin manufacturers to injection molding equipment suppliers to plastics distributors and much more. A clear theme at NPE 2024 was sustainability - not only applying plastics to enable sustainable technologies like electric vehicles but also emerging technologies to make plastics themselves more sustainable. At NPE 2024, IDTechEx explored the landscape of sustainable plastics, from advanced recycling to sustainable packaging to bioplastics, to understand the latest trends and updates driving this field.
Increasing recycled content in plastics, as opposed to increasing plastics' biobased content or biodegradability
The emphasis on increasing recycling content in plastics, particularly in packaging, was exemplified by the number of recyclers, recycling equipment suppliers, and recycled resin providers present at NPE. It is relatively unsurprising given the various legislative initiatives passed worldwide that mandate minimum recycled plastic content in packaging; recently, the European Union passed the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which legislates that plastic packaging has a minimum recycled plastic content of 10-35%, depending on the packaging type. In the US, there has been buzz generated by New Jersey's Recycled Content Law, legislation that aims to increase recycled content in plastic beverage containers to 50% by 2044. Other states in the US that are passing similar legislation include Washington and California.
That isn't to say that there are no legislative initiatives supporting the increased usage of biobased and/or biodegradable plastics. For example, California's SB 54 mandates that all plastic packaging in the state be either recyclable or compostable. Additionally, with the passage of the PPWR, the EU pledged to consider mandates for biobased materials in packaging in three years. However, these actions are less numerous than the number of legislative actions and sustainability pledges from major plastic users (i.e., fast-moving consumer goods companies) that involve minimum recycled content targets. As such, many talks at NPE centered on how to increase recycled plastic usage, particularly in areas with more regulations, such as food-contact packaging materials.
This section gives just a brief look into the complex emerging patchwork of regulations that plastics users, particularly in packaging, will need to comply with. With the growth of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws in the US, as well as global regulations like the United Nations Plastic Pollution Treaty under development, the question of how to comply with so many different regulations across territories will be a continued discussion in the plastics industry.
Beyond packaging: Exploring additional applications for sustainable plastics
At NPE 2024, bioplastics and advanced recycling companies primarily showcased the application of their sustainable plastic in a wide variety of packaging, from PLA-based coffee pods to PHA-based flexible packaging to cutlery made with advanced recycled plastic. The focus on applying sustainable plastics in packaging is unsurprising, given that packaging accounts for about 1/3 of global plastic production by application area and a disproportionate amount of total plastic waste. Packaging is also the area with the most regulations supporting the utilization of sustainable plastics.
However, there were numerous companies at NPE 2024 discussing and demonstrating the wider applicability of sustainable plastics beyond food service and packaging. This includes biobased plastics in footwear, the development of advanced recycling for healthcare plastics, biobased plastics for non-woven textiles, and sustainable plastics in automotive interiors. The development of new applications for chemically recycled plastics and bioplastics beyond packaging will be important in supporting the future growth of these fields.
Outlook: A complex landscape developing for sustainable plastics
NPE 2024 demonstrated that sustainability is no doubt high on the agenda for companies across the plastics supply chain, from resin manufacturers to end-users. However, the event also highlighted the complexity of the market trends impacting different categories of sustainable plastics and the challenges in navigating those trends. The different types of sustainable plastics showcased at NPE 2024, from PLA to PHA to starch-based plastics to advanced recycled plastics, each have strengths that enable them to better address certain challenges and applications. As such, the sustainable plastics landscape will remain varied and fragmented; market drivers like legislation continue to both encourage the overall growth of sustainable plastics while also complicating their adoption.
For more analysis and discussion on sustainable plastics, please refer to IDTechEx's dedicated reports on chemical recycling and dissolution of plastics, sustainable packaging market, and bioplastics.
For the full portfolio of IDTechEx research on sustainability, please visit, and for the portfolio of advanced materials research, please see
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Authored By:

Senior Technology Analyst

Posted on: May 16, 2024

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