Plastics Europe has launched its new ‘Plastics – the fast Facts 2023’. The fast Facts is a more visual and user-friendly format for the publication of preliminary global and European plastics production, trade partners and other key data. Finalised and more comprehensive data will be published in the ‘Circular Economy for Plastics – A European Overview’ report, early 2024.
This year’s Plastics – the fast Facts has identified a number of key developments and trends.
Faster growth in circular plastics
The global production of plastics reached 400.3 Mt in 2022, which was a slight increase compared to the previous year.
Most notable, however, is that, proportionally, circular plastics production grew 16 times more than fossil-based plastics and has now reached nearly 10% of global production. The growth of circular plastics is expected to increase at an even faster rate over the coming years.
The circularity picture in Europe is even more positive. Fossil-based plastics production is decreasing, while circular plastics production has increased by 29.2% since 2018, reaching a 19.7% share of overall European plastics production in 2022.
Accelerating this trend, which is necessary to realise the European Union’s Green Deal and circularity ambitions, will require a very significant increase in the collection, sorting, recycling, as well as increased access to high-quality circular feedstock, and abundant and affordable renewable energy.
Growing competitiveness pressures for European manufacturers
More concerning from a European perspective, is that the fast Facts 2023 confirms the growing competitiveness gap between Europe and the rest of the world.
Europe’s share of global plastics production has fallen from 28% in 2002 to 14% in 2022, with North America and China accounting for 17% and 32% respectively. And European plastics production has also decreased in absolute terms, even though demand for conversion and consumption of plastic products by end-consumers in Europe remains stable.
Europe’s producers are under significant competitiveness pressures for a number of reasons, including high energy prices, a more stringent regulatory framework and access to raw materials.
If this continues Europe will become increasingly dependent on imports, which do not necessarily meet EU sustainability standards, to satisfy the demand for plastics and achieve our legal targets. The ability of European plastic producers to invest in our circularity and net zero transitions, and the transitions of the many downstream sectors that rely on plastics, will also be undermined. This will also negatively impact on the competitiveness of these sectors and increase their exposure to international shocks.
The fast Facts confirms that China, followed by Europe, is the global leader in relation to bio-based plastics production and recycling.
To safeguard and restore European competitiveness plastics manufacturers need an enabling policy framework that incentivises investments and creates a level playing field through, for example, a true EU equivalent to the US Inflation Reduction Act, and the creation of a harmonised and consistent regulatory framework across the Single Market.
Releasing the potential of chemical recycling
The world’s recycled plastics production continued to increase in 2022, reaching 35.5 Mt, or an 8.9% share of overall global plastics production, with Europe accounting for 21% of global recycled plastics production.
Chemical recycling is essential for producing enough high-quality recycled plastics for applications which are complex or have high safety requirements, such as food contact, automotive, and building and construction materials. In 2022, Europe produced more than 50% of the chemically recycled plastics globally.
With over €8 billion of investment already announced, and provided that policy makers deliver the legislative acceptance of this technology that is so urgently required, the volume of chemical recycling plastics should increase significantly over the coming years.
Learn more about announced investments in chemical recycling, and the policy framework needed for a rapid scale-up in Europe, on Plastics Europe’s dedicated webpage (here).
Also, keep an eye out for our industry’s roadmap 2050 towards circularity and net-zero which will be unveiled on 26 October. It includes milestones for 2030, key actions and indicators, and additional industry data.
Click here to access Plastics – the fast Facts 2023.
For a more complete and in-depth analysis of the plastics circular economy in Europe, please refer to Plastics Europe’s biennial “Circular Economy for Plastics – A European Overview” reports.
Note: Plastics Europe adapts its datasets on a continuous basis in order to offer the best available data for assessing and tracking progress towards sustainability. This means that historical data sometimes needs to be adapted retrospectively, in function of new scope and definitions, as well as new data availability.