The European plastic industry employs about 1.5 million people and counts a turnover of EUR 275 billion. Italy ranks as the second largest plastics market in Europe after Germany. Italian domestic plastic and rubber machinery production amounts to EUR 4.25 billion representing a very important sector in the plastics market withhigh international sales and with an increase of 27.8 % in 2008 of imports from the United States especially for parts of extruders and other moulding machines (58% of all US imports), while the plastics processing sector has important applications in the domestic packaging and automotive industries (Italy ranks 6th globally amongpackaging producers). New opportunities for U.S. companies are rising from the demand for new innovativematerials to improve plastics performance. High demand for traditional additives is supplemented by demand for nanocomposites, bioplastics, and innovative composites.
The Italian plastic market consists of three main sectors: Plastic production, plastic processing and plastics machinery.
Plastic Production and Processing
The demand for polymers has grown at a stable rate until 2007 reaching 7400 Kton with an increase of 1.7%compared to 2006. Germany and Italy together cover about 40% of plastics processing in Europe. However, due to the serious economic crisis, 2008 saw a decrease in polymers demand of about 4%, to 7118 Kton. The sharpest reductions were seen for polyethylene, PVC, polypropylene and polyamides due to the building sectorcrisis, the lack of new infrastructure projects and investments, and the car industry stagnation.
Plastics and Rubber Machinery
The demand for plastics and rubber machinery increased 9.7% in 2008 over the previous year, despite the economic and financial crisis. However, the current uncertainty of the market does not allow any estimates for 2009.
Additives, high performance plastics, bioplastics, biodegradable plastics, nanocomposites and wood-plastics compositeshave good market potential. Demand for additives to improve traditional plastic performance is high,including plasticizers, flame retardant agents and nucleating agents. Interest is increasing for all innovative materials including bioplastics and biodegradable plastics.
The European Bioplastics Association (www.european-bioplastics.org) estimates that in 2007 all bioplasticsapplications comprised 75,000-100,000 tons of the total 48 million ton European plastic market. With an annualgrowth higher than 20% and with the increasing concern about the environment, these new materials will gainmore importance in the coming years. Main drivers for bioplastics market development are reducing fossil fuel rawmaterial dependence, reducing global warming, new efficient options for recycling and high consumer acceptance.Their immediate application is for compostable waste bags and carrier bags, agriculture mulch film, filmpackaging, catering products, and rigid packaging. Durable biobased polymers are applied in automotive,electronic devices, textile/apparel and construction sectors. The increased use of bioplastics and biopackaging byconsumers in Europe shows that the price differentials can be accepted in specific application fields. Furthermore, the price has continued to fall over the past ten years and competitiveness over conventional plastics should also continue to improve.
As of 2010 Italy is banning polyethylene shopping bags (annual production currently amounts to 260,000 tons,of which 28%, or 72,000 tons becomes garbage). Various pilot projects have been launched involving the major retail distribution channels (UniCoop, Auchan, Esselunga) using a “bio shopper” realized in Mater-Bi, a bioplastics from starch developed by the Italian Novamont (www.materbi.com).
Another important sector is represented by mineral water packaging, for which Italy has reached a very high production and consumption level, bottling in 2006 about 12 billion liters (11.2 billion distributed internally). Using Ingeo Polylactic Acid (PLA) from amid starch produced by U.S. Natureworks LLC, the Italian company Fonti di Vinadio launched a new Sant’Anna “biobottle” producing 50 million units in the first pilot project (www.santanna.it).
The Italian company Stilolinea (www.stilolinea.it) just started production of bioplastic pens from Natureworks’s Ingeo PLA (Ingeo Pen and Vegetal Pen) introduced recently at the Madrid Expo Reclam. Nanocomposites using a polymer as matrix are gaining importance because of their characteristics like dimensional stability, stiffness, flame retardancy and electrical conductivity. Applications include automotive parts, electronics and packaging.
By Kira Migliorini