The European plastics industry: hoping for the best, preparing for the worst!!
posted on Sep 4, 2019
In the run-up to K 2019, the European plastics industry faces challenges on several fronts. Overall, the economy is just bumping along; the prolonged exit of the UK from the European Union is creating disquiet; major traditional export markets are wobbling; and hardening attitudes of consumers towards plastics packaging are leading to hasty – some say ill-judged -- moves among law makers setting out a path to the Circular Economy.
The German economy, traditionally the powerhouse of Europe, is in a tense situation, with exports from and imports to the country both falling in recent months. One survey of industry executives indicated that factory activity fell beyond already poor expectations in March. Analysts at consultant IHS Markit concluded that the German manufacturing sector "was clearly in deep recession.” Germany is not alone. Unemployment in Italy has started to rise again, for example. In fact, the average purchasing managers index (PMI) for the eurozone (the 19 countries that use the euro) is now below 50 (neutral). Of the four largest economies, only Spain is in positive territory. Some analysts do expect GDP in the eurozone to increase this year, although the figure will be small. And across the Channel, UK manufacturing grew faster than in over in a year in March – but largely because factories have been stockpiling goods in anticipation of Brexit.
The plastics industry in Europe “is facing a reckoning,” says Martin Wiesweg, director of chemicals (PS, EPS and PET) at IHS Markit. “The sector has experienced years of moderate, yet steady growth, robust earnings and stellar contributions in terms of product and process innovation, employment generation, and added value in terms of functionality, convenience, and aesthetics for people’s lives. However, increasingly, it is losing social compact and public goodwill. “At the heart of this discord is the huge problem of plastic waste. With increasing intensity and rapidity, consumers and authorities in Europe are uniting against plastics by bringing sweeping measures to curb its use and strictly implement a waste hierarchy,” says Wiesweg. “The fact that the authorities are willing to risk significant cost and inconvenience to consumers is a testament of how much public faith has eroded relative to plastics.”
Directive will curb Single-Use Plastics
The European Parliament approved the Single-Use Plastics Directive in March. It is likely to be implemented across member states by 2021. The rules address the ten most found items on EU beaches. Measures include a ban on selected single-use plastics products for which alternatives exist on the market – cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, and stirrers, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastic – plus sticks for balloons. Also included in the Directive is a 90% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 (77% by 2025) and the introduction of design requirements to connect caps to bottles, as well as a target to incorporate 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles as from 2025 and 30% in all plastic bottles as from 2030.