Even with strong demand growth, resin makers and plastics processors are in "a landscape of uncertainty" in 2022.
That was the term used by market veteran Andrew Reynolds on a recent industry update webinar hosted by M. Holland Co., a leading materials distributor based in Northbrook, Ill.
North American polymers markets saw "significant growth" in 2021, with overall value growing 25-30 percent due in part to volume growth and raw material inflation, according to Reynolds, director with Business Publishing International Ltd. in Bristol, England.
"All end uses were good except automotive," he said. "Construction was up because people stayed home, and packaging benefited from strong consumer support. Markets were remarkably resilient in light of challenges."
Future growth could be aided by government spending on infrastructure such as pipe and cable and reshoring of work in medical and pharmaceuticals, Reynolds added. But challenges to plastics markets are being presented by supply issues, rising costs and inflation.
"Supply issues could continue in 2022 and maybe beyond," he said. "And future outlooks are being affected by political and trade turmoil."
Getting back on the positive side, Reynolds said that demand for both virgin and recycled resins is expected to grow looking forward to 2030. Growth rates for virgin materials should be in low single digits, with recycled demand growing at double-digit rates.
"The image of plastics also will be a challenge," Reynolds said. "You need a strategic relationship with your suppliers."
The materials market finally appears to be over the impacts of Winter Storm Uri, which froze Texas and affected much resin production in February 2021. Uri "was a four-day freeze that lasted about 12 months," according to Nate Buza, polyolefins marketing director with resin maker LyondellBasell Industries in Houston. "It showed how interconnected the industry is.
"If more plants would have proactively shut down, it would have reduced the impact. But the cost of insulation outweighs what anyone wants to pay, so now we all have cold weather plans just like hurricane plans," he said.
"We've seen things improve in the last eight to 10 months," he added. "But we're not out of the woods yet with additives, raw materials or shipping."