Peter Davis, the director general of the British Plastics Federation (BPF), told the Global Polymer Innovation Expo (GPIE) in Columbus, Ohio, that the world has enough oil and gas reserves and global polyolefins capacity to meet demand growth for plastics through to 2017.
But speaking at yesterday's event Davis warned that "politicians are avoiding debate on world population growth and the strain on our planet’s resources". He outlined the many ways in which plastics can help cope with a booming population.
"Plastics production accounts for only 4% of oil and gas use. The world has plentiful reserves of both," he told his audience, adding that shale gas discoveries in Canada and Venezuela could provide enough oil for 200 years.
"The US Congressional Budget Office estimates there are 175bn barrels of oil equivalent in oil and gas reserves on federal lands. Iran and Iraq have huge reserves, much unexploited, he added.
However, the "higher costs of extraction and political turbulence can mean higher costs for oil and gas", he cautioned.
Davis said in 2011 worldwide plastics demand was 205 million tonnes. Polyethylene's average annual growth rate is forecast to be 4.7% 2012-17 and capacity around the world is rising to meet demand from 147m tonnes in 2011 to 170m tonnes in 2017 and 200m tonnes by 2020.
China's polyethylene capacity will rise from 21.6 million tonnes in 2012 to 30.5m tonnes in 2017. Only in Western Europe will it decline – from 14.9 million tonnes to 13.6 million tonnes in the same period.
A similar pattern is predicted for polypropylene, where China's capacity will rise from 23 million tonnes in 2012 to 34.2 million tonnes in 2017. In Western Europe there will be a small decline.
PET demand growth is seen as fairly flat up to 2017, Davis told delegates, but there will be a huge amount of excess capacity particularly in the Middle East.
"Globally it looks as if plastics supply can meet demand looking forward, but in Europe it is worrying that plastics raw material production will decline.
"This is a strategic issue and the reason why the BPF supports industry calls for our government to create an Office of Resource Management."