Common Thermoplastics

The global production of plastics has grown exponentially over recent years and therefore correlates quite well with the population growth. The world production of resins, which was insignificant a mere half a century ago, now stands at about 132 million metric tons annually. Figure 2.2 illustrates this exponential growth in production and shows how it correlates with the increase in global population. If the linear relationship shown in the figure holds in the future, it might be used to estimate the approximate future demand for resins worldwide. For instance assuming a global population of about 10 billion around the year 2100, when it is expected to level off, the extrapolation suggests a annual global resin production close to 500 million tons annually.

In the United States the demand for commodity thermoplastics continually grew in the 1990s (except for a brief pullback in 1995), and, during the recent period of 1995-2000, the consumption of plastics increased at a compound growth rate of 1-5%, depending on the application area. Packaging applications are of particular interest from an environmental standpoint (because of the high

Common Molecular Weights
Figure 2.1. Common polymers derived from crude oil and natural gas raw materials.

visibility of packaging in municipal waste and in urban litter) and account for about a quarter of the U.S. demand for thermoplastics.3 The highest domestic growth rates for plastics in recent years has been in bottle and container applications of HDPE, fiber and closure applications of PP, and in PVC.

As pointed out in Chapter 1, the per capita consumption of plastics in a country correlates well with its affluence. However, large countries in the developing world are rapidly growing key markets for plastics despite their relatively low per capita income, simply because of the high populations. Asian countries, particularly China (including Hong Kong), for instance, are clearly poised to become a major player in the international plastics business of the future. Asia processes about the same volume of plastics as western Europe (but less than the 34% processed in North America). About half of the Asian processing activity is in China. The annual growth rate of the plastics sector in China has been over 10% throughout the last decade [1]! Not surprisingly, China is also a leading producer of plastic processing machinery in the world. Also, about 20% of the production capacity is estimated to be in need of replacement and will result in significant

3 In recent years the U.S. packaging market for thermoplastics was approximately divided up between resin types as follows: HDPE, 31%; LDPE, 12%; LLDPE, 16%; polypropylene (PP), 14%; poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), 15%. In the year 2000 the packaging sector in the United States used over 21 million tons of resin.

Figure 2.2. World and U.S. production of thermoplastic resins. Most of the data is in long tons with later data in tonnes. Insert shows the relationship between world resin production and the population.

technical upgrades and capacity in the sector.4 The industry sector is particularly strong in the Pearl River Delta region of Hong Kong, which produces processing machinery as well. China is the fifth largest resin producer in the world, using only a small fraction of the resin domestically (per capita plastics use in China is less than 7 kg per year). Table 2.1 summarizes the plastic industry in different

Table 2.1 Data on Plastics Processing Industry in Asian Regions (Other Than China)

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