Global polymer industry – a continuing success story
The global need for polymers has grown by over 200 million tonnes over the past 30 years.
November 7, 2014
by Canadian Packaging Staff
Bristol, U.K.—Over the past 30 years the world market for polymer has grown from 45 million tonnes to over 250 million tonnes and a thriving plastics processing industry exists in nearly every country. For most of that time AMI Consulting has been documenting and analyzing that industry, with particular emphasis on understanding the downstream market trends for polymer, and now they have put their 25 years plus of experience and knowledge into a new report detailing Global Polymer Demand.
Recent years have provided further evidence that the global polymer business is a roller coaster ride where disruption and change are a constant factor in the marketplace. However, despite these challenges the industry can continue to be positive about the contribution polymers make to our modern lives. The success of plastics has generally been achieved because of their light weight and strength, and the design flexibility they offer brand owners. These are the characteristics which have led to the replacement of metals, glass, paper and other traditional materials in many applications. Indeed the future opportunities continue to be significant as heritage materials retain a strong position in many markets with great opportunities for polymers to continue to replace them. Issues such as food waste and energy conservation are impossible to solve without plastics materials. In a world where 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year and US $6.5 billion-worth of goods are damaged in transit because of insufficient protection, the contribution which plastics products can make to these challenges has never been clearer.
The past thirty years have also seen a significant change in the structure and direction of the world industry. In 1983 approximately 74% of world demand occurred in the developed countries of North America, Western Europe and Japan. By 2013 their share of world demand had decreased to 32%. This, despite the fact that demand has continued to grow quite strongly in these countries over much of this time. However, slower growth for much of the 21st century together with much faster growth in developing regions, particularly East Asia, means that Greater China is now the largest market for polymers in the world with a share of 30%, compared with 6% in 1983.
Although they are used in a wide variety of differing applications packaging has come to dominate the end use markets for polymer. This is true in all geographic areas of the world. Overall packaging accounts for around half of all polymers processed in volume terms, split fairly evenly between flexibles and rigid.
Of the remaining applications the building and construction sector make up a further 20% of demand. This means that despite the attention given to automotive, medical and electrical applications they remain a relatively small part, in volume terms, of the overall industry, although these markets often represent much higher added value to the polymer used.
While demand growth is slowing in the developed world, the scope for growth in developing parts of the world will ensure that the global polymer industry can still look forward to annual increases in demand of around 5%/year which will result in a market in excess of 300 million tonnes by 2018.
Global Polymer Demand is an AMI (Applied Market Information) Ltd. consulting data report. It provides detailed statistical data on the demand and end use for all major thermoplastic materials worldwide. Company information can be found at: www.amiplastics.com.