In terms of demand for plastics, Poland ranks sixth in the European Union. The total needs of the European market are estimated to be 58.5 million tonnes, whilst Poland’s share is at the level of 6.5 %. In a situation where the use of polymers for each statistical Pole (75 kg) is still below the EU’s average (92 kg), there is still room for development of the plastics industry.
Grounds exist to anticipate the growth of production of polymers which – as it emerges from GUS (Main Statistical Office) data – stopped at the level of 3.2 – 3.5 million tonnes per year. This shall be favoured by positive economic situation in the packaging, construction and automotive industries which are some of the biggest recipients of plastics. Nevertheless, the growing range of plastics applications in the economy and everyday life, in conjunction with negative consumer habits (littering with disposable bags) and lack of sufficient waste management infrastructure, results in the growing burden for the natural environment. This is why the plastics industry faces an urgent task of introducing technologies limiting the amount of plastic waste and enabling higher levels of recycling.
Domestic market structure
Successive growth of demand for plastics means that the production of polymers in Poland has over the last few years been growing faster than the production of Polish industry as a whole. Between 2010 and 2018, sales of products made from plastics and rubber increased by 88.5 %, whilst the sales growth of industrial processing amounted to 62.4 %, therefore it was smaller by almost a third. Depending on the source, there are a total of 7.2 – 8.7 thousand entrepreneurs carrying out commercial activity in the area of plastics.
In Poland, similarly to most EU countries, polyethylene products are the most popular one, over 1 billion tonnes of them was needed in 2017 (which constituted 30 % of domestic demand for plastics), as well as polypropylene (19 % - approx. 670 million tonnes), polyvinyl chloride (13 % - 460 million tonnes) and polystyrene (12 % - 420 million tonnes). The best client of plastic processes is the packaging industry, which indirectly – through bought plastic products (foils, bottles, containers etc.) – uses over 1.1 billion tonnes of polymers in basic forms per year (32.5 % of domestic demand for plastics). The source of large orders for polymers is also the construction industry which uses a wide range of plastic products for the production of which over 900 million tonnes of plastics in basic forms are needed (25.9 %), as well as the automotive industry (10.3 % - 360 million tonnes).
Domestic production of plastics does not fully meet the demand in this regard. Therefore, it is necessary to import polymers, mainly from Germany (28 % of total imports of such products to Poland), as well as Belgium (13 %) and Netherlands (10 %). Even though export of plastics and rubber products in 2017 and 2018 was 14.5 and 16.1 billion tonnes respectively, Poland recorded a negative international trade balance in this area. In 2017, the deficit was 1.6 billion euros but in 2018 it was almost 1 billion euros. That indicates a positive trend in relation to the plastics and rubber trade results in the few previous years.
Plastic in the EU’s spotlight
The most recent EU legal act concerning this field is the so-called ‘plastics directive’, approved by the European Parliament in March 2019, which mainly targets disposable products made from plastics. It introduces four main requirements: ban on placing on the market of 10 single-use plastic products listed in the attachment to the directive and replacing them with alternative products by 2021; from 2025 – the possibility of placing on the market of plastic caps and lids only if they are permanently attached to bottles and containers; from 2025 – making all plastic bottles from 25 % recycled material and from 2030 – 30 %; collection and recycling plastic disposable bottles at the level of 77 % until 2025 and 90 % until 2029.
Referring to the data of Plastics Europe Foundation, it emerges that in Poland, between 2006 and 2016, the amount of recycled waste increased 2.4 fold, and the waste used for energy re-cycling increased by as much as 100 fold (however, this impressive result is mainly the statistical effect of very low starting level). Therefore, progress is visible, yet still insufficient. In 2016, in Poland 759 million tonnes of plastic waste (i.e. 44 % of plastic waste collected over that period of time) ended up on landfill sites whilst in Germany, the respective amount was 40 million tonnes which constituted a trace amount of the overall amount of collected waste. It proved possible because in Germany almost 39 % of total plastics waste was recycled and 61% was used for energy purposes.
During the Climate Summit in Katowice in December 2018, Poland committed itself to the improvement of the selective waste collection system in order to exceed the level of 90 % in the recycling of PET packaging and in 2020 the same amount of plastic introduced to the market shall be collected and transferred to recycling.