Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Environmentally friendly plastics are a particular area of opportunity.

According to the latest Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), South Africa’s plastics sector had revenue of $5 billion in 2015, contributed about 1.9% of national GDP and accounted for around 16.5% of GDP in the manufacturing sector. The latest available statistics show that the domestic plastics industry converted 1.5 million metric tons of virgin primary plastics and 309,520 metric tons of recyclables during 2016. The sector, which is divided into the capital-intensive manufacturing of primary plastics and the downstream manufacturing of plastic products, employs almost 58,000 people. Plastic consumption for 2017 in South Africa was 1.45 million metric tons, which equates to a per capita consumption of 28 kg. Included in the consumption figure is recycled plastic, which contributed 334,727 tons of recycled input material in 2017. When compared to the recycling rate of 31.1% in Europe, South Africa has an input recycling rate of 43.7% for all plastics.

Biodegradable plastics are those made from plant-based materials, which means the plastic will decompose naturally. By 2023, the market for biodegradable plastic is expected to be worth more than $6 billion. Plastic awareness has flooded the nation, as more and more companies and individuals opt for biodegradable plastics made from plant-based materials. Using these materials reduces toxic emissions and allows for safer disposal methods, among other benefits. Bioplastics aren’t the only area experiencing major growth; thermoplastics are also on their way to becoming biodegradable. Plastic has become more degradable by having pro-degradant concentrates like cobalt stearate added, which helps speed up the oxidation and disintegration of those plastics.

Reinforced plastics are a new alternative to many uses of metal. For example, these lightweight and durable materials have become quite popular in the automotive industry. They’re also now used in the medical, construction and military sectors. By the end of 2019, the reinforced plastics market was estimated to reach around $16 billion globally.

The combination of data exchange and automation in manufacturing technologies is known as Industry 4.0. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution has made its way into manufacturing, it is helping the plastics industry used to save money and simplify processes. Robotic technologies work to bring faster and more precise programming, automate maintenance and increase the speed of the manufacturing cycle.

3D printing is bringing many benefits to the plastic industry. Using this technology to create plastic parts means a quicker final product without sacrificing quality, thus increasing the efficiency of the production cycle. Using prototyping optimizes the production process, which will lead to more plastic manufacturing companies conducting research and development of the advanced plastics used for 3D printing, resulting in better quality, durability and consistency of plastic materials.

Plastic injection molding is widely used in automobiles because of its versatility. With innovative design, plastic is becoming popular for use under the hood, in new smart surfaces, in interiors, in driving sensors and in computer parts. Plastics have been involved in the automobile industry for quite some time, and microdyne plastics specifically have been around for decades. However, as new types of plastics are developed, the automobile industry is finding even more ways to incorporate plastic.

Plastics also play a role in the medical field and to medical technology advances. Microinjection-molded bioabsorbable products include staples, stents, mesh scaffolds and other medical tools—and plastics are the foundation of these new technologies, bring together health products and physical tools with new technology.

Bio-compostable and completely degradable polymers are new non-oil alternatives to raw polymer building chemistry. These alternatives came into play thanks to the understanding of how plastics affect the environment, and plastic sustainability is expected to be an area of strong growth for years to come.