The European plastics industry is striving to become circular and climate neutral and to foster this transition, European plastics manufacturers commissioned “ReShaping Plastics: Pathways to a Circular, Climate Neutral Plastics System in Europe”, an extensive independent report.
The central finding of this report is that to transition to net zero by 2050, faster systemic change and more intense and effective collaboration between all parts of the European plastics’ system and policy makers are essential.
Today, most plastics are still produced from fossil-based feedstocks. Transitioning towards a circular and climate neutral system requires investment and innovation from the plastics value chain to develop new business models for reuse, produce more recycled plastics and new feedstocks that are less dependent on fossil-based oil and gas.
“Plastics – the Facts 2022” at a glance
“Plastics – the Facts” is an analysis of the latest data related to plastics production, demand, conversion and end-of-life management in Europe. It also provides an overview of the key figures of the European plastics industry. In a nutshell, this report offers an insight into the industry’s contribution to European society.
The 2022 “Plastics – the Facts” edition presents 2021 data for plastics production, demand, conversion and some 2020 European and national end-of-life management figures.
Moreover, this year’s report presents new data compared to the previous edition to help address today’s sustainability challenges. To ensure comparability and coherence with other reports, such as the “The Circular Economy for Plastics – An European Overview”, Plastics Europe has also reviewed some concepts’ definition and the scope of its datasets. These changes explain data differences compared to the previous editions.
Contribution to European society
The European plastics industry – including plastics manufacturers, converters, recyclers and machinery producers – is essential for the sustainable development of Europe. Macroeconomic data show the resilience of our industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, despite the sanitary crisis, the European plastics industry maintained its employment levels with over 1.5 million people and 52,000 companies.
This 2022 edition of Plastics – the Facts has put a special focus on tracking the industry’s evolution towards circularity and climate neutrality. For the first time, Plastics Europe analysed the plastics production by type of feedstock used.
After a stagnation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the global plastics production increased to 390.4 million tonnes in 2021, with a share of 9.8% of circular plastics. At an European level, circular plastics production represented 12.4%, showing that the European plastics industry is
decoupling plastics production from fossil sources at a faster pace.
Although the European plastics production was quite stable, reaching 57.2 million tonnes in 2021, it has been more than a decade that we see a decrease in the European market share of global plastics production, from 19% in 2017 to 15% in 2021. This is mainly due to faster market growth in other regions of the world and higher energy and raw material costs in Europe.
This section presents estimations on the European converters’ demand for plastics in 2021, by application, type and countries.
Figures show that the European converters’ plastics demand in 2021 increased for the first time after two years of decrease. Packaging and Building & Construction represented by far the largest end-use markets for plastics in the EU27+3. The third biggest end-use market is the Automotive sector. In 2021, polyolefins represented close to 50% of the European converters’ demand.
The report also analysed the use of recycled plastics by converters in 2021, whereas this was previously done only on a biennial basis and published in “The Circular Economy for Plastics: An European Overview” report.
This year’s data shows an increase of 20% in the use of recycled plastics in new products in 2021 compared to 2020. Consequently, the rate of recycled content in plastics products has reached almost 10%. This 20% increase means that 5.5 million tonnes of recycled plastics were reintroduced in the European economy in 2021, demonstrating the European plastics industry’s efforts to accelerate its circularity path. Despite current progress, Plastics Europe recognises the need to hasten systemic change towards circularity and net zero carbon emissions.
This new edition of Plastics – the Facts presents some highlights from the previously published report “The Circular Economy for Plastics – An European Overview”.
Additionally, it also includes new data such as waste treatment via mixed or separate waste collection systems for plastics packaging waste, and plastics waste collection and treatment in eight selected countries.
This section of “Plastics – the Facts” presents the trends in the plastics production, conversion and machinery sectors that show a decline in 2022 due to the Ukraine war that has reinforced the already existing challenges in the supply chain and feedstocks high prices.
In terms of plastics production forecast, due to the current energy and feedstock crisis, it is expected that the plastics production will decrease by 4% in 2022 in the EU – assuming no gas shortage in Europe.