Plastics industry in Poland

Despite the large and unfulfilled local demand, the plastics industry in Poland exports about 40% of its production. The main recipients of Polish polymers are EU countries (more than 80% of the total export value in 2021), and among non-EU markets, Russia and Ukraine have played the biggest role so far (total share of 7%). Germany remains the key foreign market (as much as 28% of total plastics exports), although the importance of this direction has clearly been declining in recent years (a decrease in share by 7 percentage points since 2015), while exports to, among others, some countries in the region (Hungary, Romania) have grown at an above-average rate.

The high demand for polymers on the domestic market, as well as the opportunities of favorable exports, are prompting some entrepreneurs in the industry to expand production capacity, with the Azoty Group being the best example. At the end of 2017, a new polyamide plant was put into operation in Tarnow (the cost of the investment is more than €65 million), where a mechanically strong engineering plastic that is resistant to high temperatures and chemical agents is produced. It is widely used in the automotive, textile, electrical and electronic industries and medicine, among others.

The most important investment project at the moment is the polypropylene plant owned by the Azoty Group in Police. Due to the cost of construction, which may exceed €1 billion, it is considered a strategic undertaking for both the Azoty Group and the entire national economy. The investment is expected to enable the production of up to 440,000 tons of plastic per year, and the plant is scheduled to begin commercial operations in 2024. There should be no problem with the sale of polypropylene from Police, due to its wide use in packaging, construction, automotive and electronics. Part of the production will probably go abroad, which will be facilitated by the plant’s coastal location and easy access to the very absorptive German and Scandinavian markets, which are facing a shortage of polypropylene.

Recycling of plastics

“Compared to Western Europe, Polish recycling industry is relatively young, as is the entire plastic waste management industry. Poland is making up for years of neglect at an accelerated pace, with very strong potential for growth as one of the largest EU countries. Especially in the past two decades, companies have developed in Poland that are boldly operating not only in the local market, but also throughout Europe. Importantly, they have made excellent use of the opportunities to obtain subsidies from the European Union, so that today they have a modern machinery park that allows them to produce high-quality recyclates. In addition, Polish entrepreneurs implement many innovations, based on the know-how developed in recent years, and offer increasingly better products”, explains Krzysztof Nowosielski, commercial director of ML Polyolefins - one of the leaders of the PP recyclates segment in Central and Eastern Europe.

In Poland, plastic waste is subject to mandatory separate collection as one of the four basic raw materials for material recycling. Reports from the Plastics Europe Foundation show that the amount of recycled waste in Poland increased 2.4 times between 2006 and 2016.

According to Conversio, 1.919 million Mg of post-consumer plastic waste was collected in Poland in 2018 (excluding post-consumer plastic waste from agriculture and household appliances, sports and leisure), of which:

  • 525 thousand Mg were recycled (27.4%),
  • 582 thousand Mg were subjected to energy recovery in incineration and co-incineration processes (30.3%),
  • 812 thousand Mg were stored in landfills (42.3%).

According to Statistics Poland, 5.47 million Mg of all packaging was placed on the market in 2018, including 984.92 thousand Mg of plastic packaging. 346.35 thousand Mg of packaging waste was recycled, which accounted for 35.2% of the weight of packaging put on the market. This is less than the average in the European Union.

According to the survey, the highest level of separate collection is for PET packaging waste (depending on the type, from 58.1% to 80.2%), while the lowest for small packaging made of PP, PS or PE (yogurt packaging) – 25.9%.

In the case of PET bottles, as a result of their re-sorting at the recycling and processing plant, the product yield efficiency is:

  • about 70% of the delivered waste in processing bottles into flake,
  • about 65% of the delivered waste in processing bottles into regranulate.

One of the problems is the lack of plants to process some specific types of plastic waste. Among the plastic wastes that are difficult or not recycled are polystyrene and foamed polystyrene, PET trays and PE/PP films.

“In general, the problem is the increasing prevalence of composite packaging materials, consisting of several materials (e.g., paper and plastic or aluminum and plastic packaging), or multilayer packaging. Currently, in the PET tray market, only 40% of all products are made of mono-PET material. The remaining 60% are a combination of materials, such as PET, PP, PVC or similar, and PE, for example. As it is difficult to separate the barrier layer and/or PE sealable layer of such “composite” packaging using simple and inexpensive mechanical methods, its recycling is very difficult and affects the quality of the final product. As of today, there is a lack of effective technologies for processing this type of packaging”, indicates the Polish Institute of Environmental Protection - National Research Institute.