Could 2013 be the year for stabilisation for the plastics industry?
The plastics industry had got used to doing well. Year-on-year growth was a given until 2009, when the industry was hit by the world economic crisis. Since then the industry has suffered slowed growth as demand fell. However, 2013 has been a better year and the industry is finally showing signs of stabilisation.
Figures released at the industry’s premier European conference, K2013, show that business worldwide is in recovery. World plastics production has risen from 280 million tonnes in 2011 to 288 million tonnes in 2012, which represents an increase of around 2.8%.
However, look more closely at the figures for Europe and the picture isn’t quite so positive. The sector still appears to be in trouble. Production fell in 2012 by 3% and demand fell by 2.5%, a slight decrease from 2011. The mood at the conference organised by the European trade association, Plastics Europe, remained buoyant as delegates reassured each other that the figures for 2013 will show signs of stabilisation. The drop in demand has from the main customer industries: packaging, building and construction and the motor trade.
Interestingly, there are discrepancies within Europe. The biggest fall of 3% has been from customers in Western Europe, whereas as the drop in Central and Eastern Europe has been rather smaller at 0.6%. The reason may be to do with market share and the fact that Western Europe’s market was bigger to start with so had a longer way to fall. However, industry experts are keen to understand why demand and production are down, especially if the reason is not entirely linked to the world economic crisis.
Plastics Recycling and Energy Generation
One reason may be to do with plastics recycling. Recycling systems are more advanced in Western Europe and there is a bigger appetite for the public, industry and governments to ‘do their bit’ and recycle what they can. While the volume of plastics waste being given over to recycling and energy recovery was the same in 2012 as the previous year, the actual proportion of the total waste being recycled increased significantly. In 2011 26.3% of total plastics waste was recycled — up 4.9% on the previous year. In 2012 the figure rose to 35.6%. The amount of plastics recycling and energy generation from plastics waste varies from country to country. Some countries recover all of their post-consumer plastics waste whereas others struggle to reach a third of that figure, leaving nine million tonnes of plastics waste going to landfill.
The challenges facing the industry remain. High energy prices and competition from other regions of the world which have access to cheaper oil mean the industry has to be adaptable. With higher recycling rates, the demand for plastics may never reach pre-2009 levels again. However, the European economy is showing tentative signs of growth in manufacturing and that can only be good for the plastics industry. While 2013 may be viewed as disappointing, those within the industry are buoyed by the fact that production and demand levels look as if they’re stabilising rather than falling.