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Global Plastic Industry

Plastic products (included in the specialty chemical segment are used in a wide array of commercial activities from leisure and nutrition to communication and transport. Plastics are also particularly important due to their role in recycling as governments and consumers look for ways to lessen the burden on the environment. For example, recycled plastic household products, such as containers and bottles, can be used to make a range of products including fleece jackets, carpets and lumber.

Plastics are used in a variety of consumer products and industries. One of the most common uses is preserving food; polyvinylidene chloride, polyethylene polypropylene are used to wrap foods (meat, vegetables), drinks (milk, juice) and products such as butter, respectively. They are necessary to prevent food from becoming spoiled, to protect from illness and to preserve the nutrient content of food. The medical industry uses plastics in a range of equipment like tubing, intravenous bags, gloves, masks, syringes, lab ware and stethoscopes. Plastics are also used in home insulation, PVC pipes for plumbing, transportation, clothing (spandex, polyester and nylon), and electronics such as mobile phones.

Plastic Market Segments

Renewable resources, such as biomass, are used to make bioplastics.

Geosynthetics involve highly durable polymeric products such as geofoam, geocomposites, geomembranes, geogrids and geotextiles. They are commonly used in the lining and covers of landfills, airfields, dams, reservoirs and railroads. Many other industries also use geosynthetics including transportation, agriculture and geoenvironmental industries.

The plastics industry involves other market segments such as medical plastics, environmental (ex: plastic solar cells) and recycling. 

Plastics Regional Market Share

With over 18,000 facilities in operation, the US plastics industry represents close to $375 billion in yearly shipments, and employs over 1 million people, says the Plastics Industry Trade Association. The plastics industry ranks third in US industries according to revenue, and shipments have grown close to 3.5% annually over the past 30 years, while manufacturing has expanded 2.5% annually for more than 25 years. The US plastics market has seen the worth of industrial shipments rise by more than 15% over the past decade. In the same period, the cost of materials has increased more than $45 billion, up 25%. New capital spending fell $2 billion in the same period, with payroll down more than $4 billion. Top markets for plastics exports from the US are Canada, Mexico, China, Belgium and Japan; Canada and Mexico represent close to half of overall exports. The US imports plastics from Canada, China, Germany, Mexico and Japan, with Canada and China accounting for around 55% of all imports.

The UK plastics industry represents more then 2% of the country’s gross domestic product, with sales reaching almost $28 billion, according to the British Plastics Federation. The industry employs 220,000 people, producing 2.5 million tons with exports worth $7.3 billion.

There are close to 3,200 plastics facilities in operation throughout Canada, where the plastics market is worth close to $26.5 billion, according to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.

Plastic Industry Trends

Plastics are important for their environmental and economic benefits, such as conserving resources and saving energy: 4% of overall energy output in the US is consumed in the creation of plastic products. It also takes 30% less energy to make polystyrene containers than paperboard containers. Plastics have a positive knock-on effect on the environment in so much as their light weight means they cost less to transport than heavier alternatives, requiring less gas. Plastic car parts also reduce gas consumption. With governments putting more legislative measure in place to protect the environment, the demand for plastics is likely to continue growing, especially due to the material’s recyclability.


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Parent industry: Specialty Chemical
Related industries: Cleaning Compound, Industrial Gases, Paint and Coating, Fuel Additive, Printing Inks

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