FRANKFURT, GERMANY — In a PlasticsEurope Deutschland briefing last month, the organization's new president Josef Ertl – who is also managing director of Vinnolit – revealed that both production volume and turnover have dropped for German plastic material producers.
After increasing in 2011, volumes fell 3.6 percent to 19.5 million tonnes and turnover dropped 0.8 percent to 25.1 billion euros in 2012.
German companies experienced a mixed performance in the first three quarters, followed by disappointing results in the fourth quarter, said Ertl. The "rapid catching up" that materials producers enjoyed after the economic crisis of 2009 did not continue last year, he said.
The association is expecting modest 1.5 percent growth in volumes in 2013, on account of the difficult economic background and especially the uncertainty surrounding the euro.
Turnover at German materials producers in 2012 fell 0.2 percent to 10.9 billion euros from business in Germany and 0.8 percent to 14.2 billion euros from international business.
Export volumes increased by 0.5 percent to 12.5 million tonnes, while imports fell by 0.4 percent to 8.3 million tonnes. The 27 EU states accounted for 72 percent of exports, and were the source of 87 percent of imports to Germany. This led Ertl to comment: "Europe is and remains our home market."
In terms of staffing, the number of employees at plastic material producers fell 1.8 percent to 37,194 in 2012. This contrasts with the 2.4 percent increase in the number of staff in plastics processing companies in 2012. However, Ertl described the fall as "within normal fluctuations".
Plant capacity was "acceptably utilized", but margins remained under pressure because of the high average oil price of $112 per barrel and overall restrained demand.
Packaging accounted for 34.7 percent of plastics consumption in Germany, followed by construction (23 percent), automotive (almost 10 percent) and electrical/electronics applications (6 percent).
2012 turnover in plastic packaging was "relatively stable", falling 0.4 percent, but production volumes declined 1.8 percent because of more efficient material use.
Ertl expressed concern about the recent European Commission green paper on "European strategy for plastic waste in the environment."
He accepted that the commission obviously wants to initiate public debate on how products can be made more sustainable over their entire life cycle, but said that looking just at the waste phase should not disguise the positive effects of using plastics. "And we fear exactly that after reading the green paper," he said.
He also criticized the green paper for suggesting that regulations over plastic waste safety should be covered by future legislation, as this is already covered by Reach and CLP (Classification, Labeling and Packaging) directives.
Ertl said German plastics producers face new competition from the United States because of shale gas. The U.S. will be able to make petrochemicals derived from "enormously cheap" shale gas, which may lead to a permanent change to the plastics map, he said.
He contrasted the favorable situation for materials producers in the United States, where electricity and gas prices have been falling, with the situation facing producers in Germany. Businesses in Germany continue to pay higher electricity prices to finance the development of electricity generation from renewable resources, such as wind, solar and other sources.
Ertl was also critical of opposition to shale gas exploration in Germany, which hampers the country's competitiveness and technological leadership.
Looking ahead in 2013, Ertl said the plastics industry will have its next "litmus paper test" at K 2013, taking place in Düsseldorf in October.