Global trade in plastics industry

Global trade in plastics industry
Demand from European converters fell back 7.2% from 2008 to 45 million tones in 2009. The market share of end use applications remained stable with packaging.
The largest segment representing 40.1% of overall demand.

This is followed by Building and Construction (20.4%), Automotive (7%) and Electrical and Electronic Equipment (5.6%). Others include different small segments like sport, leisure, agriculture, machinery engineering etc.

There are around 20 distinct groups of plastics, each with numerous grades available to help deliver specific properties for each different application. There are five high-volume plastics families; polyethylene, including low density (PE-LD), linear low density (PE-LLD) and high density (PE-HD)), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (solid PS and expandable PS) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Together, the big five account for around 75% of all European plastics demand. The most used resin types are polyolefins (PE-LD, PE-HD, PE-LLD and PP) which account for around 50% of all plastics demand. PVC is the third largest resin type at 11%. The European Union was traditionally an important net exporter of plastic products (plastics and converted products). This export rate grew by over 100% between 2000 and 2009 reaching a high of € 13 billion.

For plastics materials the biggest export markets Remains China (incl. Hongkong), Turkey and Russia. For converted products EU exports primarily go to three countries; USA (12.2%), Russia (11.6%) and Chin(5.4%). The main products exported are plastic plates, sheets, films, foils, tapes and strips. This represents 36% of all EU plastic exports. However, since 2008, this situation has changed. Fuelled by an economic boom, China has become a significant exporter of plastic products, accounting for 33% of all global exports in 2009. Additionally, only 2% of the total exported plastic products are converted products.

This situation must be monitored closely by EU institutions if Europe is to remain a plastics exporter.

As with all materials, once plastics are sorted and prepared ready for recycling they are available for The recycling market. This market has, as with other recycled raw material, developed into a global market.

A significant amount of secondary raw materials are recycled within Europe. This is due to a well developed recycling industry and the fact that many recyclates are used in the production of new products. A good example is the plastic bottle. Automated processes during sorting and recycling and a high demand for bottle users to incorporate recycled content in bottle manufacturing, means that most of Europe’s bottles are recycled within Europe.

Recycling in Europe prevents the export of valuable secondary resources and stimulates the local recycling industry. However, where a labour intensive recycling process is necessary, much plastic is still sold to recyclers in Asia, particularly China. The demand for plastic is high and during 2008 China imported 7.07 million tones of used plastic from all over the world.

The plastic industry is fully aware of the environmental, economic and social responsibilities associated with the recycling of plastics, both in Europe and overseas. All recycling partners outside the EU must fulfill the necessary legal quality standards to ensure that recycling conditions are “broadly equivalent” to those applied in Europe.