Germany is the largest plastics market in Europe. Germany’s plastics processing industry, which achieved EUR 51 billion (USD 71 billion) in sales in 2010, offers a strong market for innovative U.S. plastics materials and equipment.
The market offers good potential for “green” plastic materials; medical plastics products; packaging; smart plastics in electronics; nanotechnology products, and plastics for building applications. Sophisticated and innovative U.S. peripheral instrumentation, equipment and machinery are also in demand.
B2B marketplaces, direct purchase and marketing via wholesalers and/or distributors are the major channels of distribution in the German plastics materials sector. German distributors usually prefer longterm business relationships. In addition to pricing, quality and supplier reliability are major buying factors. EU and German regulations apply to machinery sold in Germany. It is essential for market acceptance that products have undergone full testing and are labeled with the CE mark.
U.S. firms interested in the German or European plastics markets may wish to consider participating in the triennial K’ trade fair. K’ is the world's prime trade event for plastics and rubber materials and machinery. In 2010, the K’ Show hosted 3,102 German and international exhibitors (among them 110 from the United States) and attracted 222,000 visitors. The next K’ will take place in Dusseldorf, October 16-23, 2013.
Green Plastics/ Bio-plastics
Europe is considered the world’s largest and most attractive market for bio-plastics. Introduced into Germany in 2002, green plastics have continued to gain in importance. Presently, the share of bio-plastics in the German plastics market is estimated at approximately 1% and increasing. In Germany, green plastics are mostly used in packaging.
While it is still primarily used for packaging purposes, bio-plastics have entered new fields. The materials can be found in: Catering products; consumer electronics; automotive; agriculture/horticulture; toys; textiles and other applications. Parallel to the expansion of the materials, demand for plastics manufacturing and processing technology has increased. Demand for bio-plastics and appropriate machinery is unbroken in Germany.
Plastics used in Medical Devices
Insiders report that over 50% of all medical devices worldwide are made out of polymers. Over the past few years, Germany’s medical plastics segment has seen limited but regular growth rates. Polymers have become important for implants and medical coatings that help limit infections by catheters and surgical instruments. Nano-particles carrying medicines into damaged cells and micro-spirals that help to fight coronary diseases are among innovative applications. The numerous regulations and directives in the EU market pose challenges for plastics producers supplying the medical market.
Packaging constitutes the largest user segment for processed plastics. Unlike most of the other plastic market segments, it was only slightly affected by the financial crisis in 2009 (-6%). Annual sales totaled EUR 12.2 billion in 2010; a 14 % growth over the previous year. With a demand of 1.7 million tons, packaging films, in particular, ranked on top of the demand list.
Organic flexible displays; organic solar cells; printed RFID tags made of plastics, and OLED-lighting have the best potential for growth in the medium term. Insiders expect that the market for organic and printed electronics will grow to a multi-billion-dollar market over the next ten years.
Germany is the largest market for nanotechnology in the EU. Approximately 750 SMEs are developing and marketing nanotechnology and materials. The German nanotechnology market size amounted to EUR 33 billion (approximately USD 46 billion) in 2007. Nano additives enhancing plastic materials are of particular interest.
Increasingly, plastics are finding their way into the German construction industry. Annual sales in this segment amounted to EUR 10.8 billion (USD 15 billion) in 2010. The local construction industry has been somewhat reluctant to replace traditional construction materials by construction plastics. Over the medium term, insiders see good potential for plastics in the construction market. Increasing energy costs, in particular, and German legislation requiring houses to meet energy-efficiency standards are considered major driving factors. Innovative plastic insulation, for example, offers greater energy efficiency compared with traditional materials. At present, the German construction market is stagnating but insiders expect modest increases over the next 1-2 years.
Insiders estimate that today, about 15% of a car is made out of plastics. After the severe downturn a few years ago, the situation in the German car industry has stabilized and is improving. This positive trend is also reflected in increased sales of technical components in 2010. About two thirds of technical components are produced for the automotive industry. The segment experienced an increase by 22.7% in 2010 compared with 2009, the strongest growth of all plastics processing market subsectors.
In 2010, Germany’s total plastics processing market increased by 14% to EUR 51.3 billion which is close to the record level of 2008 (EUR 52.3 billion). 12.2 million tons of plastics were processed in 2010 -- by far the largest volume throughout the EU, followed by Italy (about 800,000 tons) and France (approximately 500,000 tons). 97% of German consumers’ plastics wastes in Germany were recycled; the highest recycling quota in the EU.
Insiders expect a growth of the overall German plastics materials market by at least 2% over 2011. In 2010, German plastics imports totaled 8.4 million tons or EUR 12.8 billion, an increase of 39.2% in value and a 16% growth in volume. In 2010, over 80% of all plastics imports originated from the European Union; 5% were imported from the United States. Plastic imports from the United States into Germany amounted to EUR 0.64 billion or USD 0.89 billion respectively (2009: EUR 0.43 billion/USD 0.60 billion). Compared to 2009, imports of plastics materials from the United States increased by 50% in 2010. The extremely high increase of plastics imports from the United States is a likely consequence of the reduction in German production capacities as a result of the financial crisis in 2009. Imports of plastics materials from the United States are expected to continue to grow at a good but more moderate rate over the next few years. Commodity plastics mainly came from Asia, particularly from China, Malaysia and South Korea.
German producers of plastics materials presently suffer from the increased costs for crude oil and energy which have not yet been passed on to the OEM due to the difficult economic climate. Since profit margins have become very small, insiders expect prices to increase soon.