Environment for European Plastics Industry Remains Competitive
(CHEManagerInternational 1-2/2015) World plastics production In the second half of the 20th century, plastics became one of the most universally-used and multipurpose materials in the global economy. Today, plastics are utilized in more and more applications and they have become essential to our modern economy. The plastics industry has benefited from 50 years of growth with a year on year expansion of 8.7% from 1950 to 2012. The effects of the economic crisis of 2008/2009 are clearly recognizable but in 2010 global production of plastics recovered and rose to 299 million tons in 2013 - a 3.9% increase compared to 2012. In Europe, the plastic production stabilized in 2013 after the 2009 turn-down. Actual levels are similar to those in 2002. (Fig. 1).
Plastics production by region In terms of global plastics production, China surpassed Europe in 2010. In 2013, for the fourth year in a row, China remained the leading plastics producer in the world with 24.8% (Fig. 2). The gap with China plus the rest of Asian countries seems to be increasing year by year for the European plastics producers. In 2012, European production (EU-27+2) accounted for 20.0% of the world's total production. Apart from Europe, plastics production in almost each of the world's regions is sparked by competitive advantages such as lower energy or feedstock prices or by higher population and GDP growth.
European plastics industry The positive growth of the plastics industry in the EU-27 after the bounce back from the economic recession continued until the beginning of 2011 (Fig. 3). Since then, the plastics producing and converting sectors have showed a decreasing trend with plastics manufacturing and processing being able to recover slightly during 2012/2013, as opposed to the plastics machinery sector. The evolution of the different sectors of the plastics industry in Europe during 2013 and into 2014 indicates stabilization rather than growth, and the mixed development continued in 2014, thus making predictions for the development in 2015 difficult.
Plastics demand by market There are various types of plastics featuring different properties. Overall, packaging is by far the largest end-use market of plastic materials with a share of 39.6% followed by the Building & Construction, Automotive and Electrical & Electronic sectors (Fig. 4). Others end-use markets of plastic materials include consumer, household, appliances, furniture, agriculture, medical, etc. In 2012, compared to 2011, all markets showed a decrease, and in 2013 the development was mixed. However, due to their beneficial material properties that enable innovation in numerous applications, help reduce energy consumption, improve safety and inspire architects and designers, engineers and inventors, plastics will continue their success story in the future.