Shift to disposable utensils boosts US PS demand

Author: Zachary Moore


HOUSTON (ICIS)--Demand for US polystyrene (PS) is receiving a boost from increased use of disposable utensils in the restaurant sector amid increasing concerns over public hygiene.

Restaurants have begun re-opening for dine-in service as various cities and states are easing coronavirus-related lockdown measures.

Many of these restaurants are now using disposable utensils in place of re-usable metal utensils amid increased concerns over public hygiene following the coronavirus outbreak.

Prior to the pandemic, many restaurants had been phasing out disposable utensils over environmental concerns, although as the lockdowns ease and public health has become a more pressing concern, this trend has shifted and disposable utensils have gained popularity.

Restrictions on the use of disposable utensils and food service items in various states and cities have been eased in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

This tracks a broader trend that has seen single-use and disposable plastics making a comeback as the hygiene benefits of these items has overshadowed environmental concerns regarding their use, at least in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic.

Disposable utensils and food service items are among the largest sources of demand for PS.

Other key sources of PS demand such as appliances and electronics remain slow as spending on durable consumer goods has fallen off in recent months due to widespread lockdown measures along with economic uncertainty and significant job losses limiting consumer income.

US PS contract prices as assessed by ICIS have declined by a cumulative amount of 15 cents/lb ($331/tonne) over the past three months due to falling upstream costs and weaker downstream demand through the height of the coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Energy costs have started to move higher as lockdown measures are being eased and contract prices for key feedstocks benzene, styrene and ethylene all settled higher recently.

Rising feedstock costs and improving demand as lockdowns ease have spurred June price increase initiatives of 2 cents/lb in the US PS sector.

General purpose PS is used in food packaging, disposable utensils, cutleries and various other consumer items. High impact PS is used in consumer electronics and toys while extruded PS is used in the construction industry as insulation.

Major US producers of PS include INEOS Styrolution, Americas Styrenics, Total, Trinseo and SABIC Innovative Plastics.

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Thumbnail image shows a cup made of PS. Photo by Al Greenwood

Focus article by Zachary Moore


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