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Plastic production and consumption fell during the pandemic

Photo by Arshad Pooloo on Unsplash

For only the third time since the beginning of the industrial era, annual global plastic production fell in 2020 due to the Covid-19 health crisis, the European plastics producers’ association announced Thursday.

While the global rate only declined by 0.3%, in Europe that number was 5.1% and in France it was 11%.

Europe saw 55 million tonnes of new plastics leaving the factories last year, the PlasticsEurope association said.

In France, overall consumption of new plastic (rather than recycled plastic) fell by 7.5% last year, more sharply than the European average (-4.7%) and the country with the next highest decline, which was Germany (-6.5%).

The automotive sector, which experienced production stoppages as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, was the most affected with an 18.1% drop in plastic consumption in Europe, and 28% in France, according to the association.

“With 367 million tonnes of plastics produced in 2020 against 368 million tonnes in 2019, this is the third global drop since the post-war period, after the one in 1973 at the time of the first oil shock, and the one in 2008, during the subprime financial crisis,” Eric Quenet, director general of PlasticsEurope, told the Associated French Press.

The slowdown, which is “a significant marker of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the global economy,” was mitigated by the continued growth of plastics production in China (+1% in 2020), according to the association.

China, which manufactured a quarter of the world’s plastic in 2010, now supplies a third after having doubled its production (117 million tonnes in 2020 against 64 million tonnes in 2010).

In recent years, China has begun to export PVC for construction and other basic plastics, but remains an importer of specialty plastics, notably for the automotive industry.

Europe (27 EU countries, plus the UK, Norway and Switzerland), which produced 21% of the world’s plastics in 2010 (56 million tonnes), now produces only 15% (55 million tonnes).

The Brussels Times