Plastic still reigns in the beverage packaging landscape

Plastic remains king of beverage packaging despite emerging paper, aluminum, and molded fiber options, reveals the recently released US Beverage Packaging report.

The new report, from the Freedonia Group, a division of, focuses on the changes expected in the products and materials used in this market over the next decade. It finds that while plastic continues to maintain significant market share, alternative formats are gaining traction, driven by evolving consumer preferences and sustainability initiatives within the industry.

According to the report, “plastic packaging remains a popular choice for beverage manufacturers due to its versatility, cost-effectiveness, and established supply chain infrastructure. Its ability to accommodate various shapes and sizes, coupled with its lightweight nature, contributes to efficient transportation and distribution, reducing logistical costs.”

However, lead analyst Joseph El-Hage, said in a statement, “Though plastic remains the dominant material, it will face stronger headwinds going forward as the green movement stays strong and past efforts to improve the material’s image like light-weighting have run their course. Plastic packaging manufacturers must innovate on sustainability, either through improvements in the material itself or through commitments to plastic neutrality and circular economies through improved collection and recycling.”

As consumers –especially millennials and Gen Z – demand eco-friendly options, new containers based on paper, aluminum, and molded fiber have emerged as promising alternatives to plastic. Aseptic cartons, made primarily from renewable paperboard, offer recyclability and environmental benefits, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers. And aluminum bottles boast high recycling rates along with product differentiation and shelf appeal.

Sustainability was a major theme of the 2023 Pack Expo Las Vegas (PELV). Presenting at PELV, Pierre Pienaar, (now former) president of the World Packaging Organisation, which facilitates solutions to global challenges in all areas of packaging, said that the packaging industry is “at a crossroads where the future of packaging is in our hands. Decisions need to be made that will alter the course and map the path for future generations.”

Pienaar – who believes that the reduction of food waste can be achieved through the better use of packaging and awareness – also noted in his presentation that the material types that we use “have and will change the landscape, having a direct impact on sustainability.” He added that the technology that we design and implement, will “map the course of energy reduction that we will follow over the next 10-20 years.”

Unfortunately, challenges persist in the widespread adoption of alternatives despite strong interest. The US Beverage Packaging report explains that cartons must address limitations in their structural design, recyclability and compatibility with certain beverage types, which impact their suitability for various product categories. Additionally, the infrastructure for recycling cartons is still developing.

However, reducing plastic use may not be the beverage manufacturer’s goal. Jennifer Mapes-Christ, manager of consumer & commercial goods at Freedonia Research, stated, “Regulatory and stated corporation goals play a big role in material choice. If a company decides that less plastic is what matters most, then they will make one decision. If reducing carbon output is the goal, they may make a different decision. If they are trying to increase reusability or use less virgin material, they will make another choice.”

To access the new US Beverage Packaging report, click here.

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