BRUSSELS (Jan. 9, 1:10 p.m. ET) — PlasticsEurope director Wilfried Haensel says there are still opportunities for the region's plastics industry, despite all the ongoing economic uncertainties facing the Eurozone.
This year has brought the industry back from the lowest point of the crisis and we are back to the same level of manufacturing as 2005. However, it is not back to pre-crisis levels and still needs to grow 10 percent, which is obviously relevant to next year, he said in an exclusive interview with European Plastics News.
“Looking at 2012, we need to think: ‘Can we grow 10 percent or not? Is this a double dip recession? A rebound?'” he said. “Our first assessment is that recovery will take longer than the optimists first thought, but there are significant opportunities.”
Haensel is keen to stress the importance of sustainability initiatives in the plastics sector, which he says can be financially as well as environmentally beneficial.
“This duo - the environment and the economy - will be the driving force next year,” he said. “Governments will look to reduce CO2 emissions and energy use, both to help the environment and bring down costs.”
Two areas of note where plastics will play a key role are housing and automotive, he added.
In Europe, a massive amount of total energy consumption goes into heating houses - more than 40 percent, he pointed out. Plastics companies will therefore benefit from huge efforts to insulate homes. And in automotive, plastics can help with lightweighting, as well as developing electric cars.
“Remember with electric cars there are different physical challenges for the materials as well as the design, and plastics will play a key role,” he said.
Looking at the other side of the coin, however, the industry must also ensure that consumers accept plastics and understand how they can help with environmental problems to ensure industry growth, said Haensel.
The same goes for safety concerns, for example, the public's perception of use of Bisphenol A, he added.
“We want to base safety standards on science and need to stick to these principles,” he said. “Sometimes we see people argue on emotional grounds but as an industry we have to stick to scientific evidence. Can we give people the confidence to trust us? We have to earn this trust and still have a long way to go.”
In terms of region, Haensel said that consumption is higher in Western Europe but growth rates are higher in the east.
However, all European countries continue to waste plastic resources, both in the East and the West, he added.
“Some European countries send 80 percent of waste to landfill and we need to reduce this to 0 percent by 2020,” he said. “This is especially important in light of the economic crisis. At the moment 8 billion euros is wasted every year in Europe by discarding plastics in landfill. If allowed to develop, recycling as an industry will grow; thus, zero landfill is an economic stimulus packaging with significant ecological benefits.”
However, he indicated that political decisions will play a very important part in what will happen to the plastics industry.
“Provided the political environment doesn't worsen dramatically, I am confident we will see further growth,” he said. “Policy makers will determine the future of our industry next year.”