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Plastic films usage forecasted to expand

It was classic cinema. Do you remember the conversation from “The Graduate”? Dustin Hoffman, playing a troubled young man named “Ben,” was told by a family friend: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word: Plastics.”



Ben: “Exactly how do you mean?”

Mr. McGuire: “There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

Now, more than 40 years later, it's amazing how prescient that Mr. McGuire was. Where would Ben be if he had followed his advice? After all, the use of plastics has spiraled dramatically, especially in packaging, which has become the largest use for the material in the U.S. At the end of 2006, one study estimated that rigid plastics accounted for 23 percent of all packaging and flexible plastics another 15 percent. Other materials—like glass, paper, board and metal—have seen their shares diminish.

The “Plastic Film” study just released by The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based industry research film, forecasts that plastic film usage will grow about 2.6 percent annually through 2012. Resin demand should total about 16 billion lb, valued at $13.4 billion. The total plastic film value, including resins, additives, processing and other costs, is expected to reach nearly $32 billion.

Bill Weizer, Freedonia's vp of plastics, says applications like standup pouches and modified atmosphere packaging will help drive growth, adding that film's advantages such as cost, performance and source reduction are other favorable factors.

Weizer says consumption rates for the five highest-volume resins used in packaging will vary widely. LDPE and PP films will likely lead the way, with annual growth rates at or above three percent. LDPE will flourish in areas like produce and snack packs, stretch and shrink wrap, and trash bags. PP's use will swell in packaging for produce, dairy and other food applications. PET's packaging applications may expand, but overall use will drop as film and magnetic tape use declines. Sustainability will be a factor in slowing the performance of PVC, as its use has been targeted by environmentalists and some retailers. Weizer says a soon-to-be-released bioplastics study shows their use will jump 15 percent annually, though by 2012 they'll still account for less than one percent of total plastic film usage.

So, if Mr. McGuire offers you advice on plastics, perhaps you should listen. Then, carefully weigh your choices.

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