PE Film Market Snapshot: Consumer Can Liners

Huge market projected to grow by 3.6%/yr through 2020. Environmental issues remain a challenge.

We’ve reported on stretch film, t-shirt bags, institutional can liners , and shrink film in previous installments of this blog series, which provide snap shots of the results of 2017 research conducted by market-research firm Mastio & Co., St. Joseph, Mo. on the PE film industry. Here, we recap Mastio’s research on consumer can liners.

The consumer trash bag market can be divided into the categories of national brand, private label, and generic market segments, the Mastio study notes. All three types of bags can be purchased by consumers in a variety of places including grocery stores, mass merchandise stores, and discount stores. National brand and private label bags are usually sold at a higher price than generic bags. Typically, there is very little, if any, advertising to promote the generic bags, further helping to lower the costs to consumers.

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Consumers can find trash bags in a variety of colors, ranging from soft pastels to something more bold and bright, says Mastio. Current trends are the determining factor in the availability of specialty hues. Also available are scented and odor-blocking consumer trash bags. Vanilla, cinnamon and spring flowers are just a few of the scents that customers will encounter when shopping for kitchen or bathroom trash bags. Combining colors and scents has transformed consumer trash bags from just a common necessity to a decorative commodity.

According to Mastio’s latest research, last year approximately 1.330 billion lb of PE were consumed in the production of consumer trash bags. By 2020, Mastio projects consumption of PE for this market is expected to reach 1.482 billion lb, with an average annual growth rate of 3.6%.

Consumer trash bag sizes are commonly specified in two different ways: measured by length and width in inches. or measured by capacity (gallons), Mastio states. During 2017, bags that were sold by capacity ranged from 4 to 60 gal. Consumer trash bags are also sold in a variety of widths and closure styles. In 2017, bag widths ranged from 17  to 52 in., with the most typical width being 24 in. Bag lengths varied from 17  to 48 in., with 36 in. being most typical.

There are a variety of consumer trash bag types available. The most popular types are small garbage bags, medium garbage bags, large garbage bags, tall kitchen bags, trash compactor bags, lawn and leaf bags, and drum liners. Some of the various closure styles and methods include draw string, wire or twist tie, and stretch and tie (wing tie) configurations. Additionally, many companies print suffocation warnings on their consumer trash bags.

Consumer trash bags are sold in a variety of gauges. Small trash bags are typically thinner in gauge due to their lightweight applications, Mastio explains. Large trash and yard bags are typically sold in thicker gauges to hold more weight. Reported gauges of consumer trash bags ranged from 0.35 to 3.5 mils, with the most typical gauge ranging approximately 1 to 1.25 mils. Bag gauges vary by both application and the companies that manufacture the bag. Generally, smaller bags use thinner gauge films, while larger bags use heavier-gauged films.

Mastio’s research profiled 22 companies in the United States and Canada who extruded PE film for consumer trash bags. In 2017, the five largest participants in this market were: Reynolds Consumer Products Inc. (Hefty Bags); The Clorox Co. (Glad Manufacturing Co. Div.); Inteplast Group Ltd. (184.0 million lbs., 13.8%); Poly-America, L.P.; and Berry Global Group, Inc. Collectively, these companies accounted for about 81.6% of the resin consumed in this market in 2017.

MATERIAL TRENDS

The resin most commonly utilized for consumer trash bags in 2017 was LLDPE, accounting for roughly 80% of resin consumption, according to Mastio. As Mastio explains, LLDPE provides added strength, puncture, and tear resistance over LDPE, which makes the bags less apt to puncture. Blending or coextrusion of LLDPE resins with LDPE materials allows processors to downgauge the film while maintaining or increasing the overall strength of the consumer trash bags.

Metallocene single-site catalyst based LLDPE (mLLDPE) resin is used to improve the strength and puncture resistance of consumer trash bags. When used in blends or in coextrusion with conventionally produced PE resins, mLLDPE resin greatly enhances the physical properties of the films in lower gauges. mLLDPE resins were additionally utilized to manufacture draw strings due to its elasticity.

Other reported LLDPEs utilized in this market include LLDPE-hexene, LLDPE-octene, LLDPE butene, LLDPE-super hexene, and recycled post-consumer LLDPE (PCR-LLDPE).

High molecular weight-HDPE (HMW-HDPE) and medium molecular weight-HDPE (MMW-HDPE) were also utilized in 2017 yielding added strength to consumer trash bags, says Mastio. Consumer trash bags constructed with HDPE are three times stronger and more durable than LLDPE or LDPE trash bags of the same thickness. HDPE resin is more puncture-resistant and/or less apt to zipper if punctured versus bags constructed with LDPE resin. Consumer trash bags constructed with HDPE have less surface gloss, are stiffer, and have less stretch than either LLDPE or LDPE bags. Additionally, HDPE resin requires specialized film extrusion equipment and is more difficult to process.

LDPE-homopolymers were the third most commonly consumed material in this market during 2017. LDPE-homopolymer resin, when utilized in blends or in coextrusion with LLDPE resin, adds to the overall appeal of the finished bags. LDPE resins have the greatest clarity of all grades of PE resin and give the film a higher surface gloss. Bag clarity can be important for custom tinted, semitransparent bags used in recycling programs. Additionally, LDPE-homopolymer resin, when used alone or in blends, has increased processing ease and improved seal characteristics.

TECHNOLOGY TRENDS

This is a 100% blown film market. According to Mastio’s research, this is also still predominantly a monolayer market; some 93% of the market is single-layer. Coextruded structures accounted for the rest, thought it’s worth noting that in 2014 coex bags had a 5% market share, so there has been modest growth.

Consumer trash bag producers told Mastio they are trying to design for the future, adding that innovation is what will drive growth of the market with more customization, more complex structures, multi-layers, handles, and closures for separation from the lower-end commodity segments. Customers expect quality products with various features such as high strength; puncture resistance; high barriers to oxygen, moisture, and odors; lowest cost and highest performance; and leak proof. Therefore, trash-bag manufacturers seek to align technology parameters with these expectations. A more recent trend is the color coding of consumer trash bags to differentiate the various types of recyclable contents (i.e. blue for recyclable dry goods, clear for yard waste, and green for compostable organic kitchen food waste).

Improved gauge control and downgauging have provided growth opportunities and increased product yield at lower costs. Industry sources report that the gauge of the film is no longer the standard for determining the overall strength for consumer trash bags. As properties of LLDPE have improved, consumer trash bag producers have been able to extrude film in thinner gauges while increasing strength versus a thicker gauged film manufactured with low density LDPE.

MY TWO CENTS

This market continues to confront issues involving recycling and the environment. Various U.S. states and Canadian Provinces are mandating bags be produced with specified levels of post-consumer reclaim, and most certainly trash bags will be made with more PCR in the future to comply. However, in this market supply is a big issue. In the case of T-shirt, dry cleaner, or merchandise bags, for example, consumers are encouraged to return used bags to supermarkets and retailers, where they are collected and returned for recycling and re-processing. Obviously, such a collection effort is not feasible with trash bags; their life ends at the landfill. As a result, processors have struggled with identifying sources of post-consumer material. In the future, it will be interesting to see if this encourages processors to move more aggressively to biodegradable resins. Of course, what biodegrades in a landfill?