Plastic Industry

Plastic Industry – Overview 

Thailand is upbeat in becoming the leading global hub for plastic manufacturing, with producers placing greater emphasis on value-added and environment-friendly products, reinforced by strong government policies. The plastic industry of Thailand is growing constantly and contributions in plastics are made from smart cards to furniture, contributing to the vigorous growth of the Thai economy. 

At present, Thailand is the world’s 8th largest plastic manufacturing nation. Predominantly as an export-oriented country (60% of GDP), Thailand ships about THB 300 billion worth of resin and plastic products to various countries in the world including Japan, the United States, Europe, ASEAN, Australia, India, and China while imports about THB 200 billion. Once combined with plastic parts used in export industries such as automobiles, appliances, refrigerators, air-conditioners, radios, television sets, computers, toys, furniture, and packaging then the same becomes almost THB 400 billion worth of exports per year. So, the Thai plastic market is estimated to be a total worth of 900 billion Thai Baht and the industry employs about 2million workers with an annual growth rate of 15-20%, as specified by The Nation. 

The Thailand plastics market is partially consolidated in nature. The major companies include Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited, SCG Chemicals Co., Ltd., and INEOS Styrolution Group GmbH, among others.

Packaging applications predominantly revolve around industries like Electrical and Electronics, building and construction, automotive and transportation, furniture and bedding, and some more other applications. The packaging and food sector application dominated the market and is expected to grow during the forecast period.

While the rapid usage of plastic in building and construction may foster the industry growth but stringent government regulations against plastic may hinder the expected growth. 

Let us delve a bit in the top 3 prevailing industries where plastics are used extensively.

Packaging Industry

Packaging accounts for almost 31% of the country’s plastic exports and packaging companies consume about USD 3.42 billion per year, according to the Plastics Institute of Thailand. Packaging materials are typically made up of 4 types of materials where plastic consumes 25% share while paper contributes at 40% while the rest is consumed by metal and glass. There are two main kinds of plastic packaging: “rigid” such as bottles and boxes and “flexible” like bags and envelopes. Thai manufacturers offer all types and are proficient in the use of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polyamide (PA), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC). They are also highly knowledgeable in production processes such as injection molding, film extrusion, blow molding, and thermoforming.

Food Industry

Food products, from ingredients and vegetables to snacks and meals to milk and juice, go through 60% of all plastic packaging in the country. As the Thai government looks ahead to revitalize the kitchen of the world, a scheme to accelerate Thailand’s plan to become the major food exporter of the world as it looks ahead to increase the 6% present contribution to its GDP. At present Thailand is the second-biggest food exporter in Asia, trailing only China. 

With the increasing demand for the packaging sector in the ASEAN region, Thailand remains as the right destination for budding entrepreneurs to indulge in eco-friendly plastics, particularly for the packaging industry. Opportunities exist, to meet the soaring demand of attractive, flexible yet cost-effective single-serve packs for ready-to-eat food that suits people with busy lifestyles, and heat-resistant bags for cooking vegetables in a microwave.

Electrical & Electronics

Plastics are heavily used in this sector including use of plastics in all forms of display products, audio devices, cables and wires, circuit breakers and switch gears, fuse boxes, switches and knobs, transformers, food processing units, electrical kettles, refrigerator, microwave grills, and numerous other electronic goods. The reason why plastics are used extensively in this sector is because of its safety, durability, efficiency and provides resistivity from electrical sources and mechanical shocks. Electronic products, like HDD, monolithic IC, semiconductor, PCBA, and other IC, are instrumental in creating a healthy growth.

Thailand is aware and is trying to contribute well in the global move towards environment-friendly plastics and urging all manufacturers and reprocesses to take a stance to prove eco-friendly products. The Thai government has introduced a campaign to ban all plastic bags at major retailers in the country. 

There is a growing demand for bioplastics,  recyclable and non-contaminated plastics including those using as raw materials for the production of cosmetics and food packaging.

However, it is quite difficult for a sudden change, especially when Thailand produces 600,000 tonnes of plastics per year, with 400,000 tonnes used for T-shirt plastic bags.

Plastic manufacturers, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are facing a difficult time as they cannot afford to re-invest on new machinery for producing new types of recyclable or reusable plastic bags. 

The TPIA expects domestic plastic converter producers will delay producing plastic products and T-shirt bag plastic in 2020, while demand for plastic products and T-shirt bag plastic will decrease. 

Injection Molding Technology to Dominate the Market

Injection molding is the most commonly used process for the plastic industry. However, there are other processes like blow holding which is also quite popular but is used for large plastic containers like water tanks. However, injection molding is mostly done using virgin or high-quality processing resins. Injection molding is a capital intensive project but offers high-speed replication which can provide the ROI quicker. The products that are generated through injection molding could be bulk production of pallets, wire spools, packaging, bottle caps, automotive dashboards, pocket combs, etc. With the explosive growth of the automotive industry, injection molding is a preferred choice for production in bulk. So, injection molding would be the ultimate choice for users and would grow during the forecasted period. 

In an article by Bangkok Post, Mr. Somchai Techapanichgul, president of the Thai Plastic Industries Association (TPIA) said the association consists of 400-500 companies, which employ about 7,000 workers and consist of mostly SMEs that produce many plastic products to serve the needs of the domestic market, such as rice bags, sugar bags, hot-cold food bags, sanitary bags, and trash bags. Around 40-50 companies produce T-shirt plastic bags.  Most of them need to change their production to manufacture plastic bags to be less than 36 microns in thickness so that the same can be reused, recycled, and reduced, following the circular economy initiative.

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Overall, the plastic industry is poised to witness a healthy growth, at an estimated CAGR of over 4% from 2020-2025. As per another market report, the projection is 6.2% CAGR from 2019 till 2026 with a value projection of USD 56.9 billion.

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Plastic materials’ contribution to E&E will only intensify. Besides being easy to design, heat- resistant and simple to maintain, the fact that plastic is coming out locally in environment-friendly versions adds to its popularity among enterprises. With more people demanding electrical and electronic products that are better for the environment, E&E suppliers are shifting to cleaner processes and eco-safe models. As a result, naturally degradable bioplastics have emerged as a fast-growing sector.

Medical devices, an US$800 million market in Thailand, are also following the bioplastics trend. In a recent development, PTT Global Chemical Plc announced plans to start manufacturing biodegradable plastic screws and plates within three years. These bioplastic components will target medical applications, mainly in the treatment of bone fractures. The breakthrough is touted as being cheaper for patients than steel materials.

Society is indeed more aware of the importance of protecting the environment and conserving energy. Consequently, recycled plastics are another fast-growing business full of investment opportunities, especially with bottles and bags. Advancements in sorting, shredding, and cleaning technologies by local producers are opening the way to the heightened application of recycled plastic.

The plastics industry roadmap of Thailand and a complete range of incentives by the government of Thailand to promote ventures in the plastic sector have fascinated more and more number of plastics companies like as PURAC [lactic acid and lactide], PTTGC/ Nature Work [PLA], PTTMCC Biochem (a joint venture of PTT and Mitsubishi Chemical) [Bio-Butanediol, Bio-succinic acid, and PBS].

As Southeast Asia is being projected to turn into the biggest plastics manufacturing province in the coming decade, Thailand is preparing itself to become the area’s hub for plastics products and is striving to enforce its roadmap, implement new novel technology and construct its infrastructure and the plastics industry.

The financial system of Thailand is an appealing merge of a well-built agricultural vertical along with the urbanized industrial sector and firm service sector. Even though the agricultural sector has been taken over by the industries, it still makes a good contribution to the GDP of the nation. The manufacturing and the service industry play their roles as well. The economic growth of the country is greatly dependent on the export which adds approximately up to 75 percent to the total GDP. And, the plastic industry plays a major role in the export sector and contributes to the GDP of the nation.

The government of Thailand has taken a dynamic step in supporting the bio-plastics industry with an aim to make the nation become the hub for bio-plastics for the ASEAN Region. The Thai government has allotted the National Innovation Agency to build a nationwide roadmap to increase the bioplastics industry in the country. Additionally, the administration also gives a number of enticements to prop up investment in the bioplastic industry.

The government of Thailand has a well-built set-up in the in-house technical and industrial associations and international contracts to sustain the bioplastics sector. The National Innovation Alliance of Thailand has an alliance with organizations and universities to promote methodological developments and improvements in the bio-plastics field. The country’s government also has a tough set of connections consisting of institutions like the Thai Bioplastics Industry Association for additional expansion of the bioplastics industry.

The Thai Bioplastics Industry Association has signed an MOU with international institutions to assist in build synchronized certification courses and programs and technical- based exams and disclaimers for bioplastics products. The memorandum of understanding also supports added teamwork in fields like technology development, capacity building, and development of markets to increase the worldwide growth of the bioplastics sector.

The country’s government worked with the drawn in organizations to construct the plan to encourage ventures in the plastics industry. The National Innovation Agency is considered as the main controller to implement the roadmap into realistic projects. As per the outline of the roadmap, the Government of Thailand will shore up the erection of a plastics resin factory.

Moreover, there are more additional steps taken that will speed up the plastics industry’s progress. They are:

  • Allowing the usage of raw materials from starch and sugar at prices that are fixed for export
  • Giving tax incentives for R&D in the bioplastics industry
  • Implementing degradable plastics standards which have certification from international standards
  • Curbing the duties on import for bioplastics resins which are not manufactured in the country
  • Encouraging and backing the usage and growth of bioplastics items that are produced and launched in the market.

Plastic waste disposal has been a growing concern. Indestructible plastic waste dumped into the sea destroys the marine ecosystem by killing sea creatures and polluting marine life.

Unsustainable practices in marine-related economic sectors are contributing to the surging amount of plastic debris in regional seas that harm local businesses. Alongside, Seafood contaminated with micro-plastics threatens food safety and public health across Asia as numerous people depend on seafood for their protein intake. 

Protecting marine environments is a growing priority in East Asia. The World Economic Forum predicted that there would be more ocean plastic waste than fish by 2050 without effective intervention. Active work is needed in adopting resolutions to promote sustainable development and co-operation to reduce marine plastic debris. 

SCBEIC said to Bangkok Post that  Thailand ranks as the sixth-worst globally for dumping plastic waste in the sea, amounting to 1.3 million tonnes per year, following China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.  Globally, approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic waste are dumped into water sources every year.

According to the non-profit Ocean Conservancy, a total of 150 million tonnes of plastic waste is submerged in oceans and other water bodies. This is a cause of alarm to the sea world creatures and is likely to endanger them more if adequate measures of effective waste management and plastic recycling are not taken up immediately.

Source: The Nation

As a priority measure, the Thai cabinet has introduced a 12-year roadmap, in the years 2018-2030, to tackle the plastic waste and reduce or end certain usages of plastic materials which are predominantly harming the environment. The related state agencies are getting huge participation from the private and business sectors to propel this initiative. 

Continuous public relations campaigns and social media awareness are being built strongly to educate the mass. The partnership was initiated in 2018 to address Thailand’s plastic debris. Initially, 15 organizations joined the program. In 2019, the membership more than doubled to 33 organizations.

Most of Thailand’s plastic waste in the ocean is bags [13%], straws [10%], and food containers [8%] as per Bangkok Post.

This year, Thailand is expected to be free of three types of plastic – microbeads, cap seals, and oxo-degradable plastics.  Furthermore, the roadmap is taking measures to quit using four other types of single-use plastics by 2022. Those are lightweight plastic bags (with thickness less than 36 microns), styrofoam food containers for takeaway, single-use plastic cups, and plastic straws, with the exception of those who still need to use them like children, patients or elderly persons. 

According to the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion, Thais generate as much as 1.14 kilogram of garbage per head per day, contributing to the 27.04 million tonnes of waste per year. The average Thai consumer uses approximately 8 plastic bags daily and  500 million plastic bags are consumed by the entire country as reported by The Nation.

As per Bangkok Post, Thailand is going towards the right direction and a no-bag campaign at 7-Eleven for example has reduced the use of plastic bags by more than 100 million pieces.

Source: Bangkok Post 

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