Region/Countries: Europe Industry: Other, Water / Clean Technology Date: June 2019

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Innovative technologies are especially in demand as the industry moves toward sustainability.

Ireland’s economy went from “the poorest of the rich” to being labeled as the “Celtic Tiger,” but fell into recession during the financial crisis of 2008. The economy started to recover again in 2013, and due to Ireland’s low corporate tax levels, global corporations such as Microsoft have adopted Dublin as a base for their EU operations. This is often cited as a significant factor in why the Irish economy has been the fastest-growing economy within the EU for five straight years. In 2018, the country experienced GDP growth of 7.6%, compared to a 2.1% average across the Euro zone.

The polymer industry is an important part of the Irish economy. The number of polymer companies has been growing, and has reached 230. This includes plastic processing businesses and suppliers of raw materials, services and equipment to the industry. Together, these companies generated $2.4 billion in 2018. Around $1.84 billion, or 77%, of this annual revenue is produced by exports. The industry’s growth has also led to an increase in employment opportunities, with job growth in 2018 reaching 7.7%, and around 7,000 workers employed in the industry across Ireland. The manufacturing sector as a whole is the second-largest employer in Ireland. To support the training of workers in this industry, Polymer Technology Ireland, the representative body for the polymer industry, operates the First Polymer Trainings Center in Athlone, one of Ireland’s hubs for the polymer industry. Thanks to three new apprenticeship programs, the polymer and manufacturing industry expects around 1,100 new apprentices by 2025.

The polymer industry in Ireland prides itself on being highly innovative. Sustainability is becoming a major issue for the plastic processing businesses, with companies increasingly focusing on developing a circular economy by increasingly working with recycled material. Ireland has also become a leader in biodegradable plastic, with an EU-backed research project recently receiving $25 million in funding.

Even with Ireland’s growing polymer technology industry, plastic products are still the country’s eighth-largest import category. In 2018, Ireland imported goods worth $3.1 billion in this category, or 2.9% of the country’s total imports. Wisconsin’s exports to Ireland amounted to $81.7 million, with plastics and rubber products constituting more than $18.2 million, compared to roughly $15.1 million in 2017. Demand for single-use products such as plastic sheets, film, foil and plates has been decreasing, with Wisconsin exporting goods worth $6 million to Ireland in this category in 2017, but only $5.4 million in 2018. Imports of more durable products such as containers and boxes, on the other hand, have been increasing. In 2018, Wisconsin exports to Ireland in this category totaled $4.8 million, an increase from $3.5 million in 2017. Due to the trend toward sustainability in Ireland, particular opportunities for U.S. businesses lie with durable and environmentally friendly plastic products.

Amid high plastic consumption rates and governmental measures such as a single-use plastics ban taking effect in 2021, Ireland’s plastics industry is growing and at the same time developing innovative means to make the industry more sustainable. Demand for imported plastic products is increasing, creating opportunities for Wisconsin companies. Businesses can check out these opportunities for themselves at the Plastics, Printing and Packaging Show, Jan. 29-30, 2020,  in Dublin. The show will bring together more than 1,000 industry executives and experts, offering ample opportunities to get to know the Irish plastics and packaging industry.