The relative size of end-use applications remained fairly stable from previous years with packaging remaining the largest segment and representing 39% of the overall demand.
However, this share is lower than the year before (40.1%) due to a higher growth of technical applications in 2010 over 2009.
The packaging sector is followed by building & construction (20.6%), automotive (7.5%) and electrical & electronic equipment (5.6%). Others include various sectors such as sport, health and safety, leisure, agriculture, machinery engineering, household appliances and furniture.
There are different types of plastics with a variety of grades to help deliver specific properties for each application. The “big five” plastic types that stand out in terms of their market share are polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Together these account for around 74% of the overall plastics demand in Europe. The top 3 resin types by market share are; polyethylene (29%), polypropylene (19%) and polyvinyl chloride (12%).
Engineering plastics showed the highest growth rate, e.g. acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) rose by 13% and polyamide by 20%, whereas demand for the “big five” increased between 1.4% and 8%.
This growth in engineering plastics is driven by a combination of generic growth and bounce back from a drop caused by the economic crisis, which affected engineering plastics much more than the “big five”.
The European Union has traditionally been an important net exporter of plastics and plastic products.
This trade balance grew by over 100% between 2000 and 2010, reaching a total trade surplus of15.7 billion euros in 2010. Despite a shrinking workforce and loosing the number one production position to China the European plastics industry continues to be a key contributor to EU trade surplus.
The biggest export markets for plastics raw material remain China (incl. Hong Kong), Turkey, Russia and Switzerland.
EU exports (Extra EU) of converted products primarily went to the following countries: Switzerland, Russia and USA.
As mentioned earlier converter demand reached 46.4 million tonnes in 2010. However, given the numerous long-life applications, only slightly more than half(24.7 million tonnes) of the converted plastics end up in waste streams each year. In 2010, plastic waste levels rose by 2.5% from the year before, which is slightly lower than the increase in demand (+4.5%).