What Kinds of Plastics Are in Use?

The term plastic is used to describe plastic polymers, to which various additives are added to give desirable properties to the final product (OECD 2004). The demand for plastics in Europe alone is estimated to be 45.9 million tonnes in 2012 (PlasticsEurope 2013), with plastics demand by industry segment shown in Table 13.1. As can be seen, packaging, which includes food and beverage packaging, is the single largest category by a considerable margin. Plastics are generally divided into two types: thermoplastic, which soften on heating and can be remoulded, and thermosetting, in which case cross-linking in the polymers means they cannot be re-softened and remoulded. With reference to these properties, plastics can be further classified into seven different groupings based on their ease of recycling. Table 13.2 lists some examples of products made from these seven different plastics groups and the demand for different resin and polymer types based on this classification system (for Europe). As can be seen, the

Table 13.1 Plastics demand by industry segment in Europe, 2012

Industry segment

Volume (millions of tonnes)

Percentage of total

Packaging

18.1

39.4

Building and construction

9.32

20.3

Automative

3.76

8.2

Electronics and electrical

3.03

6.6

Agriculture

1.93

4.2

Other (furniture, health and safety, sport, consumer and household appliances, etc.)

10.3

22.4

Total (demand for 2012)

45.9

100.0

Figures are derived from PlasticsEurope (2013)

Table 13.2 European plastic demand by resin type

Code

Resin type

Example product

Volume of demand (millions of tonnes)

% of total European demand

%

recycleda

1

PET polyethylene terephthalate

Soft drink bottle, polyester fibre

2.98

6.5

20

2

PE-HD polyethylene high density

Plastic bottle, plastic bag, bottle cap

5.51

12.0

11

3

PVC polyvinyl chloride

Water proof boot, window frame, plumbing pipe

4.91

10.7

0

4

PE-LD polyethylene low density

Wire cable, plastic bag, bucket, soap dispenser bottle, plastic tube

8.03

17.5

6

5

PP polypropylene

Stationary folder, plant pot, bags, industrial fibre

8.63

18.8

1

6

PS. PSE polystyrene

Food container, plastic cup, glasses frame, car bumper

3.40

7.4

1

7

O other (PC Polycarbonate, PLA polyamide, styrene, SAN acrylonitrile, acrylic plastics, PAN/ polyacrylonitrile, bioplastics)

Drink bottle, consumer item, clothing,

medical equipment

9.82

19.8

0

Total

45.9

100.0

39

Figures are for 2012 and are derived from PlasticsEurope (2013). aRecycling figures derived from Engler (2012)

main classification group (code 7) makes up 19.8 % of total European demand, yet has a 0 % recycling rate. The second most commonly used plastic, polypropylene (18.8 % of demand), has a 1 % recycling rate.

 
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