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The Art of Plastics Design
Conference 18th -19th October 2005, Berlin, Germany


Summary of plastics consumption and trends, world in 2005

Plastics have been a success story, for their unique features. Plastics truly are Amiracle materials”, with the almost infinite combinations of various molecules creating these multiple polymers, in the true heart of matter.

The main characteristic of plastics is to offer a combination of many properties, none outstanding, but the synergy of all creating their very value for many applications. One of the most striking features of plastics is to be, at the same time, flexible glass and transparent metal.

The definition of plastics in this paper only includes solid plastics, excluding all polymers in liquid form, for paints, adhesives, binders and the like. The rule is to retain only the compounded polymers in which the polymer contents are more than 50%. Hence, for instance, the glass reinforced unsaturated polyester are included, whilst the phenolic and aminoplasts resins for chipboard and plywood are not included.

World consumption of plastics

The average annual rate of growth of 8% that brought all solid polymers from 7 million tons in the world in 1960, to over 200 million tons in 2005, is to continue, reaching over 300 million tons in 2010, using a more conservative annual rate of 6.5%.

Total world production/ consumption of plastics, since the beginning, at the turn of the twentieth century, has kept an average annual rate of growth of 15 %, or doubling every five years, until 1974, when this trend was broken at the first oil shock and this high growth rate was never achieved again, in spite of the entry of new producing and consuming countries in Asia and Latin America. The average annual growth rate of plastics was 15% from 1960 to 1974, and 8% thereafter, from 1974 to 2005. The slowing down is mainly due to the high share of the industrialized rich countries, still about 50 % of world total, where growth rates are slower. The very fast developing areas in Asia achieve growth rates of two digits, comparable to those of the industrialized world in its heyday of the 1960-1975 period.


World production/ consumption of plastics, long term, 1960-2010. In thousands of metric tons

1960 1974 1979 1989 2000 2005 2010 AARG AARG
1960-00 2000-10
Commodity 7000 43000 60000 85000 155000 211000 287000 8% 6.4 %
Engineering 50 600 900 2000 4500 7200 12000 12% 10%
Specialty 3 25 40 100 170 280 400 11% 9%
Composites 0 0 1 15 80 125 200 23% 9.6 %


There still are plastics applications not requiring any special effects or design, just plain

Out of these global figures, it is of interest to try identifying the amounts of plastics of various types and applications that require little or no finishing, or further elaboration, the very plain plastics.

In order to make a more precise analysis of the plastics applications, the major end-uses, as a world average, are given below.


Average share of the major plastics end-using industries, worldwide in 2005

End-using industries % of total
Packaging 32
Building construction 20
Electricity /electronics 9
Automotive and vehicles 8
Agriculture 6
Consumer goods 18
All other, industry 7


Of course, there are great differences depending upon countries or even world areas, as the concept of end-uses is that of the activities of the plastics converting industries, and the consumption of raw materials in the various converting processes, film and pipe extrusion, molding. Obviously the more sophisticated end-uses and plastics design have been more important in the more developed countries, but this is no longer true, when, for instance a fast growing area like China already is the world leader in the production of many finished products.

China is a world leader in many sophisticated, well developed applications. Just as an example, to assess the very sheer size of China:


China, production and export of selected industrial finished products 2001

Products Production Export %
  Million units  
Color TV sets 42 52
Refrigerators 14 41
Washing machines 14 12
Air conditioners 25 28
PC monitors 80 40
Phone sets 250 60
Electric fans 210 59
Vacuum cleaners 84 50

Source: Sinodata Consulting


As of 2005, China produces close to 100 % of portable radios and shavers, 80% of total world production of microwaves, 35 % of vacuum cleaners, over 30 % of refrigerators and washing machines.

In China consumer economy, sales of almost everything from electronic goods to automobiles are soaring. For instance, in the electronics sector, in 1996 China had 7 million cell phones and the United States had 44 million. By 2003 China had grown to 270 millions versus 160 millions in the United States. In effect, China is leapfrogging the traditional land-line telephone stage of communications development, going directly to mobile phones.

The use of personal computers finally took off in China. After a late start, the number of personal computers jumped to 36 millions in 2002 compared with 190 millions in the United States. But with the number of computers in use doubling every 28 months, it is only a matter of time before China, with 1.3 billion people, overtakes the United States, with a population of 297 millions.

With household appliances, such as television sets and refrigerators, China has long since moved ahead of the United States. Already by 2000, for example, TV sets in China outnumbered those in the United States by 374 millions to 243 millions. With refrigerators, perhaps the most costly household appliance, production in China overtook that of the United States in 2000.

Among the leading consumer products, China trails the United States only in automobiles. By 2003, it had 24 million motor vehicles, scarcely one tenth the 226 million on U.S. roads. But with car sales doubling over the last two years, China fleet is growing fast.

China is no longer just a developing country. It is an emerging economic superpower, one that is writing economic history. If the last century was the American century, this one looks to be the Chinese century, or the Indian century?


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