Plastics – Trends and Perspectives

imageSince 1952, the K trade fair in Düsseldorf has been presenting tangible evidence of the plastics and rubber industry’s global success. The twentieth edition of the K trade fair in 2016 is no different: a benchmark and orientation point for the plastics and plastics processing industry.

Between 1950 and 2015, the consumption of plastics and rubber have risen by an average of 8.5 % per annum. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the growth rates have still been rising by between 4 and 5 %. They do, however, vary significantly from region to region, and change with the product and application.

imageThe rising global population and the overall improvement in living standards are the main factors that drive global growth. The effects of increasing prosperity can be seen in many markets for plastics application, spearheaded by packaging for food and convenience goods, but also in the variety of storage and shipping containers. Infrastructure and construction also require the use of plastics in water, electricity and gas supply systems, as well as in insulation, window profiles and many more. Another aspect is increasing mobility – in cars, lorries and airplanes. Medical engineering is one area of application where polymer materials have become indispensable: without safe, disposable and hygienic plastics products, technical dimageevices and systems, diagnostics, laboratory equipment and the safe application of medical drugs would not be able to comply with current quality standards. This also applies to our modern and widely appreciated sports and leisure products. In their markets, these applications, equipped with or entirely made of plastics or rubber, contribute to the global acceptance and proliferation of polymer materials.

In 2015, the association of European plastics producers, PlasticsEurope, reported a global plastics production volume of 322 million tonnes. A proportion of almost 270 million tonnes was attributed to polymer materials, i.e. materials used for the production of plastics applications. The remaining amount, about 50 million tonnes, were used for the production of coatings, adhesives, dispersions, lacquer or paint. Analyses of the same period published by the International Rubber Study Group IRSG show a global rubber production and consumption volume of almost 29 million tonnes, 12 million tonnes of which were attributed to natural rubber and almost 17 million tonnes were synthetic rubber.

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PO tense situation in Europe


EU plastics converting companies (mainly SMEs) are facing serious difficulties since early 2015, due to limited availability of polymers. Since early March 2015, the EU polymer industry has declared new ‘force majeure’ Majeures on 66 occasions. This has exacerbated an already tense situation for the EU polyethylene and polypropylene markets and has driven polymer prices to levels not seen in the past decade. From March 2015 to May 2015, EU polymer prices increased by over 40 percent whilst oil prices remained at a record low. As a consequence of this situation, EU plastics converters submitted in 2015 45 requests for tariff suspensions and quotas in seven Member States.
The Polymers for Europe Alliance, initiated by the European Plastics Converters association (EuPC) in May 2015, brought this situation to the attention of the European Commission and the Economic Tariff Questions Group (ETQG), ahead of the July 2016 round of tariff suspension and quota requests. The Alliance emphasised the importance of these tariff suspension and quota requests for the future competiveness of the EU plastics converting industry. If EU plastics converters cannot get access to sufficient volumes of polymers, they will ultimately go out of business.

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"Force majeure"?

imageThe reliability of the European polymer producing industry continues to raise serious concerns as over 40 force majeure situations have been declared in a period of only four months. Due to this sudden material shortage, production lines across Europe are forced to stop at the plastics converting level, alarming brand owners and OEMs. Meanwhile, raw material prices continue to rise to record highs due to this shortage of materials.
“EuPC has set up the Alliance for Polymers for Europe, during its recent General Assembly in Warsaw in order to bring all forces together to fight this unjustified situation. It seems that after months of low oil prices the petro chemical industry appears to be clawing back margins in the polymer value chain by stopping some crackers in Europe one after the other. This situation is very serious, risking future customers for raw material producers and raising several antitrust concerns. Due to the increased pressure of several trade associations, users, OEMs and brand owners, the EU authorities are starting to look deeper into these force majeure situations,” stated EuPC President Michael Kundel.
The Alliance for Polymers for Europe will provide detailed information on the current polymer market and help assist raw material users through its network of national plastics associations, as well as assist companies in requesting suspension of certain EU import duties to relieve the current shortages on polymer markets – a situation which is not expected to improve in the near future. Some companies will not survive this period due to their lack of sufficient volumes in stock, a consequence of the low demand in 2014. As a result, these companies face possible bankruptcies.
The Polymers for Europe Alliance will also initiate a study on the aging of polymer sites in Europe, together with industry and independent experts, so as to provide more transparency on the future development of the polymer production sites in Europe. According to existing market intelligence, some sites had more than 11 force majeure declarations in two years and the situation is not improving.


Placard, bio-based plasticizer

image_thumbGood results were reported during a meeting of the Placard project held at EuPC premises on 8 and 9 July. The project is aiming at producing a new bio-based plasticizer for soft PVC with a focus on applications in construction. It is produced by chemical modification of cardanol, an industrial grade yellow oil obtained by vacuum distillation of cashew nut shell liquid. By using a by-product such as cashew nut shells, the Placard plasticizer does not create pressure on food resources.

Production of the Placard plasticizer on a pilot scale was carried out at Serichim premises whilst tests were conducted by Università di Salento that compared properties from different high/low molecular weight phthalates and non-phthalates plasticizers. Placard results showed better plasticizing efficiency than DEHP and DOTP enabling raw material saving. Processability and an energy cost reduction were other parameters that demonstrated better performance compared to selected commercial plasticisers. Remaining tested parameters were comparable with other selected plasticisers and showed good stability of properties over time.
Additional results, such as ability to facilitate recycling, will be further investigated and quantified. They will be presented in internal meetings and at targeted conferences by EuPC that is in charge of the dissemination activities as well as by Kommi, the project leader. For more information, click the logo above.

Insecticide substances in foamed plastics

imageThe Plastics Technology Centre AIMPLAS, Inesfly Corporation from Valencia and the University of Zaragoza are researching in order to be able to encapsulate insecticide substances in foamed plastic materials. The innovative material will allow the manufacture of soles of sandals and mats that repel insects that transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis.

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In search of Green Polymers

For the future generations the world needs to move towards a renewable supply structure including materials and AMI is bringing together a group of concerned professionals and expert scientists at Green Polymer Chemistry 2014, which takes place from 18th to 20th March 2014 in Cologne, Germany. 

Sustainable sourcing is a big driver for major brand owners worldwide and they have set up the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative with standards that suppliers are expected to adhere to, and this will apply for bio-sourced polymers plus the additional remit not to affect food security.  How can the green credentials be certified?

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Detailed information on PO for food contact

imageSABIC, one of the biggest polyolefins (polyethylenes and polypropylenes) producer, has now all of its food safety and compliance declarations available on line, three years ahead of the required 2016 deadline. The declarations are available on the European pages of the company.

The new regulations involve more stringent testing on the ways migration from packaging into food is tested. As these new regulations come into force over the next three years, plastics processors and packaging companies will need to seek further assurances on compliance from their materials suppliers.

EU Plastics Regulation (EU) 10/2011 (PIM) came into force on May 1, 2011, and introduces several changes to regulations embodied in Council Directive 82/711/EC, particularly with reference to testing conditions for migration of individual chemicals and in what can be used in the tests to simulate actual foods. There are changes to the duration of some tests, to the temperatures at which some tests are carried out, and to the simulants for aqueous and alcoholic products inside the packaging. However, the new regulation will not become compulsory until January 1, 2016.

For PE and PP, SABIC already has assessed all substances regulated with a Specific Migration Limit (SML) under the new conditions (10 days at 60ºC). Its tests showed that none of its PE or PP materials will be subject to additional restrictions for use in food contact applications.

Food contact legislation in Europe is based on the principle that all substances are forbidden unless they are explicitly allowed. As far as migration from the package to the contents is concerned, there are strict limits on specific migration (SML, relating to individual chemicals) and overall migration (OML, the sum of all specific migrations).

While there is no formal obligation for them to execute migration tests, all manufacturers of plastics raw materials have to provide a Document of Conformity (DoC) to their direct customer, providing confirmation that the material meets the relevant legal requirements. Additionally, they have to disclose the identity of monomers and additives, regulated with an SML and/or QM restriction, as well as the identity of “dual-use” additives, and they have to provide information on restrictions of use if relevant.

For any questions regarding SABIC product safety information, click HERE.

In January 2013, SABIC held a customer e-seminar on the new testing requirements for food packaging under the EU food contact regulation. To view or get a copy of the presentation, click HERE.