Düsseldorf, Germany — There is no hiding from the economic and environmental challenges facing the plastics industry as K 2019 opens: Global plastics and rubber machinery industry sales are projected to drop 10 percent this year and 5 percent in 2020.
At least that's according to European and German plastics and rubber machinery industry trade associations at an Oct. 15 kickoff news conference in Düsseldorf, Germany, the day before the start of K 2019.
The Euromap association, an umbrella group of nine national European plastics and rubber machinery trade groups, projected that global sales for the machinery sector will drop 10 percent to 33.1 billion euros this year and fall a further 5 percent to 31.5 billion euros in 2020.
Sales reached 36.8 billion euros worldwide in 2018.
"At the bottom line, we want to say that not only will we have a challenging 2019, but 2020 will be challenging, too," said Thorsten Kühmann, secretary general of Euromap.
The group estimates that sales in the Euromap region will also drop 10 percent this year to 14 billion euros and fall another 5 percent in 2020 to 13.3 billion euros.
Germany and Italy will face similar declines, it estimated, with German plastics machinery sales dropping from 7.9 billion euros in 2018 to 6.7 billion euros next year. Italy is projected to see a drop from 2.9 billion euros last year to 2.5 billion euros in 2020.
Euromap President Luciano Anceschi said several factors were leading to the global slowdown in machinery sales, after a decadelong streak of growing sales: a declining auto market worldwide, the trade conflict between the United States and China, Brexit and environmental questions around plastics.
He noted drops in exports to major markets from Europe.
Euromap projects machinery exports from the 28 European Union nations will drop 7.5 percent this year to the world, 6.4 percent to the United States and 12 percent to China.
Anceschi did put that drop in a broader perspective, saying that during the growth streak in the European plastics machinery industry, production had risen 59 percent since 2010.
Other machinery executives also said public questions around plastics waste and sustainability are hurting the industry's bottom line.
Ulrich Reifenhäuser, chairman of the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, told journalists that those concerns are leading to deselection of plastics in other industries, like consumer goods.
"The tendency to replace plastics is fairly strong," said Reifenhäuser, who is also chief sales officer of German extrusion machinery maker Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik. "I don't like that, because I like to see growth and I like to sell machines and there are good reasons to take plastics.
"It's the real and bloody situation; it's the potential to lose business, to lose basis, for machine selling," he said.
Major consumer product companies have announced moves away from plastic.
For example, PepsiCo Inc. said in September it wants to reduce the amount of virgin plastic used in beverage packaging by one-third by the middle of the next decade, and Unilever plc said in early October it wanted to cut virgin plastics used by half by 2025.