There is often a significant gulf between expansions and building projects at the converter and machinery manufacturing level and those of chemicals and plastics production facilities, and two substantial projects were in the news this month. Fittingly they both took place on the Gulf Coast, led by ExxonMobil Chemical Company and its 650,000-tonne PE line start-up in Mont Belvieu, Texas. The full project, part of the US company’s multi-billion dollar expansion plan in the Baytown area, will eventually lead to an increase in PE capacity of 1.3 million tonnes a year.

Not to be outdone, Houston’s LyondellBasell said that it is planning to build a multi-billion dollar chemicals and plastics plant along the Gulf Coast, which is likely to cost in excess of $2 billion. The facility will use propane to produce chemicals and polypropylene to serve North and South American markets. Despite the US shale boom, most projects still rely on ethane instead of propane, which while cheaper, lacks the diversity of propane.

In less expensive news, Tekni-Plex opened a $15 million manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China, to support the growing needs of the Asia-Pacific pharmaceutical and medical device markets.

Expanding into 2018 was DS Smith Plastics, which added 37,000 sq ft to its Minnesota, USA facility including injection moulding and assembly assets, Vanden Recycling, which added a storage yard to accommodate split loads of different grades of plastics, and Alpha Packaging, which acquired a former Graham Packaging Company plant in Etten-Leur, The Netherlands.

From expansions to temporary contractions, chemical giant BASF declared Force Majeure at its ecoflex plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany, after detecting a defect that potentially compromised 1,500 tonnes of product. In addition to ecoflex, the plant produces ecovio.

It was not the only negative news in the bioplastics industry this month, as more than 150 organisations – including Unilever and PepsiCo – endorsed a statement by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation calling for a global ban on oxo-degradable plastics packaging, following evidence associating them with microplastics pollution.

On a positive note, investment projects are underway into tomorrow’s bioplastics. Braskem and Haldor Topsoe have agreed a technological cooperation agreement to develop a new route to produce bio-based monoethylene glycol (MEG), a key component of PET. The companies will construct a demonstration plant in Denmark, with operation slated to begin in 2019.

A €25 million ($30m) five-year project has also been launched that seeks to establish a value chain for FDCA and polyethylene furanoate (PEF), including the planned construction of a 50,000-tonne FDCA plant in Antwerp, Belgium. Called the PEFerence project, it comprises a consortium of 11 partners from eight European countries. FDCA is the chemical building block for the production of PEF, which possesses a longer shelf-life than conventional plastics.

The US recycling rate for PET bottles dropped for the second successive year, claims a report by the National Association for PET Container Resources (Napcor) and the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), with a decline in the containers covered by deposit programmes to blame. The recycling rate fell to 28.4 per cent in 2016, having dropped from 30.1 per cent in 2015.

However, APR has also launched a programme designed to expand market demand for recycled resins in North America. The APR Recycling Demand Champion campaign aims to increase the use of polyolefin post-consumer resin, with the focus on ‘Work in Process’ (WIP) items used in manufacturing, such as trash cans, pallets and tote boxes.

In Europe, meanwhile, the quality of recycled plastics materials (RPM) remains the biggest barrier to a stronger use of recyclate as a raw material, says the European Plastics Converters Association (EuPC).

In a quick rundown of acquisition news, Guala Closures Group bought wine packaging firm Industria Corchera, Arsenal Capital Partners acquired materials firms Carolina Color Corporation and Breen Color Concentrates, both in the US, and United Caps purchased the plastics closures division of Closures4you. However, Clariant and Huntsman pulled the plug on their proposed merger.

And finally…

The BPF and PlasticsEurope have picked up a novel anti-littering campaign conceived by a secondary school in the UK, following a litter challenge held by the three during the previous academic year. The ‘Bincentives’ campaign utilises emoji-based messages on a series of advertisements to discourage littering and promote recycling.

All of our team would like to wish you a very happy Christmas, if you celebrate it, and a happy New Year. Fingers crossed that 2018 brings good fortune. Keep an eye on our website news over the festive period and give us a ring if you want to discuss anything about our industry.

Steven Pacitti