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Brighter prospects for plastics sector but challenges remain

The UK plastics sector says it is encouraged by growth during 2013 with the latest seasonally adjusted figures showing an improvement in the final quarter.

Even so, demand of 3.47 million tonnes last year was down 3.7% in comparison with 2013, but the British Plastics Federation (BPF) said a major factor in the fall was minimisation through design, increased recycling, and a continuing shift by UK manufacturers towards higher technology and added-value products.

The umbrella PlasticsEurope group, of which the BPF is a member, has also released data for 2012 across the EU market, including the state of plastics recycling in the UK.

The total rate for recycling and energy recovery was 30.5% (22.5% and 8% respectively). Packaging - which accounts for nearly two-thirds of plastics waste - recorded 29.2% recycling and 7.7% recovery. Across the EU, only six countries had lower rates of recycling and recovery.

Kim Christiansen, the regional director north for PlasticsEurope, said the entire EU plastics sector, inlcuding virgin and secondary materials, was a success story but it faced challenges and threats, such as worldwide competition. An example, he said, was the US exploitation of shale gas that had significantly reduced its energy prices and improved the competitiveness of the US plastics industry against Europe.

“In order to guarantee the sustainable growth of the plastics industry, UK policy makers need to ensure access to competitive energy and raw materials, support for innovation and training to provide skilled workforces for the future, among other measures, to ensure a strong plastics industry,” he added.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel but the plastics industry needs to remain alert.”

Peter Davis, director-general of the BPF, said: “The plastics industry has a vital strategic and economic role in the recovery of the UK and policy makers should continue to develop a genuine long term strategy for the re-industrialisation of the UK that includes a vibrant petrochemical industry.”

Philip Law, who takes over from Davis when he retires at the end of June, reiterated the view that “the outlook is good, confidence is mounting but there are challenges ahead”.

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