The UK Plastics industry is a Global leader operating at the cutting edge of technology and constitutes an important UK economic strength. It has an annual sales turnover of over £19 billion and employs approximately 180,000. The industry is a dominant player worldwide in the three core sectors that make up the plastics industry: material and additive manufacture, material processors and machinery manufacture.
In 2011, the UK exported £6.7bn of plastic and plastics products, a 13% increase from 2010. In total it accounts for 7% of UK manufacturing activity, greater than the automotive and pharmaceutical industries combined. There are some 7,500 firms engaged in the UK plastics industry of which about 3,000 are ‘primary processors’, that is companies engaged in the melt processing of plastics raw materials and in the production of semi-finished or finished goods.
The industry has a long and complex supply chain stretching from the producers of plastics raw materials and additives to the end-user (customer industries). Different product groups, for example automotive components and retail packaging, have markedly different supply chains.
|The UK Plastics Industry At A Glance
Plastics materials produced
Plastics industry turnover
Processor sales turnover
Value of exports
Plastic and plastics products exported
Number of primary processors
Companies in the plastics industry
It is estimated that the UK produces approximately 2·5 million tonnes of plastics raw materials annually. Supporting the big names in UK polymer manufacture, for example Ineos, DuPont, lyondellbasell and Sabic, are a range of specialist materials, masterbatch and additives manufacturers, all helping to push the uses of plastics to their technological limits. With the UK’s plastics processors consuming 4·8 million tonnes of material the UK remains one of the top five processors of plastics in the EU.
The processors are at the heart of the industry providing the vital nexus between raw material suppliers designers, toolmakers, customers and the processors’ own unique blend of engineering skills.
The raw material production component of the sector is capital-intensive and the large bulk of personnel are employed in plastics processing which, despite being increasingly automated, is still relatively people-intensive due to the many individual tasks which need to be accomplished in sectors such as insert and assembly work.
The UK’s Plastics Processors consumes 4,800 ktonnes of material, displays how polymer consumption breaks down by application area in the UK. The UK remains of the top 5 processors of plastics in the EU with some 4.8 million tonnes of materials processed in the UK.
To focus on the UK Strengths, firstly we have local sources of feedstock’s for manufacturing polymer and additives. We are still a significant oil producer although production in the North Sea is now well over its peak and our rich geological deposits on the mainland mean that almost the full range of additives is manufactured in the UK. Consequently we have particular strengths in specialist materials manufacture, compounding and masterbatch production.
As an entreport trading nation going back to the seventeenth century the need for packaging has always been important and today the UK has major strength in plastics packaging innovation. It is the country which invented ‘polythene’ in 1933 and was one of the first countries to exploit the amenability of polyester to the stretch-blow moulding process for the manufacture of PET. Companies like RPC and LINPAC have extensive interests outside the UK. Packaging remains a strong area of growth with innovation in PET pushing the boundaries of usage and ready meals and smart packaging creating new opportunities for plastics.