by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

State of the Worldwide Plastics Industry

The markets for plastics are extremely diverse, including textiles, alternative energy, automotive, fluid handling, life sciences, agricultural, medical, pharmaceutical, packaging and many more. In recent months, there has been a significant increase in the demand for polymer-based products related to PPE for medical personnel. But who is producing these plastics, and what industries are driving this demand?

Global Plastic Production

It isn’t surprising that, according to data compiled by Statista, 350 million metric tons of plastics were produced globally in 2018 alone. In that same year, data shows that China was responsible for close to 30% of the production followed by NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, composed of Mexico, Canada, and the United States) and Europe, both responsible for 18%. In terms of production per capita, NAFTA countries are in the lead followed by Europe and Japan. When it comes to nations however, Japan produces more plastic per capita than any other country.

Infographic: Developed Nations Produce the Most Plastic | Statista
Statista, Developed Nations that Produce the Most Plastic

Growing Market for Plastics

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the market is growing for plastics: experts estimate that worldwide plastic production will reach 24 billion metric tons by 2050, and Grandview Research reported that the plastics market at the end of 2019 was valued at $568.7 billion.

Major Industries Drive the Need for Plastics 

The major industries supporting this demand for plastics are the automotive, construction, electrical, and electronics industries, although with the COVID-19 pandemic it is also possible that there will be a significant rise in demand for plastics related to the medical industry. 

Automotive applications drive much of the demand for plastics as manufacturers seek to achieve better fuel efficiency through the use of polymers with high strength to weight and strength to stiffness ratios. In the construction industry, plastics are being used for pipes, windows, flooring, and cables as well as in the equipment used, ranging from handheld nail guns to the hydraulic excavators used to dig the foundation. 

In electronics and electrical systems, polymers are used in the connectors that ensure clean signals are transmitted between components. They also provide protection and insulation for even the IC chips used in devices, and secure everything from tiny transistor chips to large smart televisions in durable packaging.

Of course, packaging is another major source of demand for plastics, accounting for up to 35% of the market. Food, beverages, medications, and consumer products depend heavily on plastics. And there is a wide variety of plastics used for packaging, including HDPE, LDPE, PET, PVC, and polystyrene.

Wide Applications of Plastics

However, these are not the only industries where plastics are critical; plastics have become almost ubiquitous in our daily lives. For example, we know that plastics are used extensively in the textile industry, and many polymers we see used in applications such as pipes (PVC), gears and bearings (Nylon) can also be found in clothing, although in a different grade and form. In alternative energy, lightweight but strong plastic components contribute to efficiency and sustainability. 

For medical and pharmaceutical applications, polymers are used for everything from medical cabinets to hold supplies, to PPE equipment to protect medical professionals working at the frontlines, to seals for ventilators and other respiratory equipment, to implantables that support human health and well-being.


Plastics have become a critical factor in many industries. Whether it is recyclable HDPE packaging or high strength, high speed industrial bearings, polymers are a part of our every days lives, and according to economists the market will only continue to grow and expand in the near term.

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