Published February 2017
In terms of volume, HDPE is the third-largest commodity plastic material in the world, after polyvinyl chloride and polypropylene.
The HDPE industry is in a growth mode, with supply and demand increasing at about 4% per year in the next five years. Demand will continue to be dominated by Asia, primarily China. Northeast Asia alone is estimated to account for about 33% of the total global HDPE consumption. Historically, traditional established economies, such as North America, Western Europe, and Japan, were the producers of HDPE. The recent growth of the polyethylene industry has resulted in a shift to production centers in the Middle East, namely Iran, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of HDPE:
The global share of Northeast Asian demand for HDPE resins has been escalating in the recent past, and in 2016 is estimated to be 33% of world demand.
Film and sheet applications lead the demand for HDPE globally, and currently account for 28% of total demand, followed by blow molding applications; these markets are forecast to grow at average annual rates of about 4% and 3.5%, respectively, in the next five years. Film and sheet, blow molding, and injection molding together account for approximately 73% of the global market for HDPE, most of which is for packaging (excluding blow-molded fuel tanks).
Demand in Southeast Asia and China is driven by film and sheet applications, whereas demand in the United States and Western Europe is driven by blow molding applications for HDPE resins.
Construction represents 10–15% of global demand; another 10–15% is distributed among a myriad of consumer and industrial applications. These markets are influenced by business cycles and fluctuate in tandem with the economy, because of the exposure of HDPE applications in construction such as piping.
Blow molding and injection molding are the dominant end uses in both Western Europe and North America, accounting for 54% and 50% of total consumption, respectively, in those regions. In contrast, consumption of HDPE in these end uses in Japan constitutes only 29% of the total. As a percentage of total HDPE consumption, film usage in Japan and Other Asia is nearly twice as large as its share in either the United States or Western Europe.
Future growth in world consumption of HDPE will be driven by the status and progress of regional economies, continued substitution of HDPE for traditional materials (e.g., glass, wood, concrete, paper), and avoidance of obsolescence of HDPE in some traditional applications. This latter factor will be more evident in the developed regions of the world, where continued improvements in polyolefin processes and catalyst technologies should allow for the production of very broad ranges of products and grades that will increase HDPE’s utility in the marketplace. HDPE will also face competition, not just from traditional materials such as other existing thermoplastics, but also from emerging polymers brought into the marketplace via new technologies such as metallocene catalysts.