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Plastics and rubber with excellent global growth perspectives

Asia is top global plastics producer

In 2015, the association of European plastics processors, PlasticsEurope, reported a global plastics production volume of 322 million tonnes. A proportion of almost 270 million tonnes was attributed to polymer materials, i.e. materials used for the production of plastics applications. The remaining amount, about 50 million tonnes, were used for the production of coatings, adhesives, dispersions, lacquer or paint. Analyses of the same period published by the International Rubber Study Group IRSG show a global rubber production and consumption volume of almost 29 million tonnes, 12 million tonnes of which were attributed to natural rubber and almost 17 million tonnes were synthetic rubber.

Like all periods of soaring prices and economic crises experienced over the past decades, the short financial and economic crisis in 2008/2009 had only a minor impact and only marginally affected the sustained and positive development of the plastics industry. Since 2010, the year when plastics production experienced annual growth rates of only 3 to 5%, the industry has returned to an upward growth trajectory.

At the end of 2015, KI's capacity database Polyglobe reported global capacities of almost 305 million tonnes per annum for the production of thermoplastics, the largest and most important segment of the entire range of polymer materials. More than 90% of these were attributed to standard plastics, almost 9% to industrial thermoplastics, while the proportion of other thermoplastics such as high-performance polymers bio-based biodegradable plastics only amounted to one tenth of a percent, respectively.

The enormous economic growth experienced by China and many countries from Southeast Asia has turned the Asian-Pacific economic region into the world's largest growth region - with positive repercussions for the global plastics industry. Meanwhile, Asia represents 49% of all plastics products manufactured in the world. In 2015, more than 40% of the total number of plastics processing machines used all over the world came from Asia. Today, China has become the most important nation for all segments of the polymer industry: according to data recorded in 2015, China is responsible for 28% of the global polymer production, nearly 33% of the global plastics processing machinery production and also represents the largest individual proportion of the global plastics processing segment.

The massive expansion of polymerisation capacities in the Asian-Pacific region and in the Middle East has caused a profound shift in the industry's statistics: added up, China's 28%, Japan's 4% and the remaining Asian nations' 17% represent an impressive proportion of 49% held by this region alone. Europe now holds 18% and the US 19%, which means that their share of the global production has shrunk by several percentage points. According to PlasticsEurope's statistics, the Near and Middle East and Africa together represented 7%, Latin America 4% and the former CIS nations 3%. Between 2006 and 2015, Asia's share of the global plastics production increased by some 9 percentage points, while the US lost 4 and Europe 6 points. The global rubber production presents a similar picture: Asia dominates the market. While it maintains its traditional 73% share of the world's natural rubber production, it now also represents 61% of the global synthetic rubber production.

Read more: Polymer industry 66