Poland On Its Way to the Top of the European Packaging Market
In recent years, Poland has increasingly established itself as a major player in the European packaging market. However, the war in Ukraine and the resulting supply problems have slowed growth. How is the Polish packaging industry doing at the moment?
Poland is continuously expanding its position in the European packaging market, currently ranking on place 5 within the EU-27. In the export of wood packaging, the country even occupies a leading position in terms of total value and growth. In the paper and cardboard packaging segment, Poland ranks second in the EU in terms of growth and third in terms of export value behind Germany and the Netherlands. In the glass and metal packaging segments, Poland ranks sixth and seventh respectively in terms of growth.
Cost pressure comes into focus
The Polish packaging industry consists of about 6-7 thousand diversified companies of different sizes. Despite substantial investments of PLN 3.7 billion in 2021 (about four billion euros), a record value and 36 percent above the average of the previous five years, the industry's overall investments have been declining since 2015. One exception is companies producing paper and cardboard packaging, which are benefiting from rising environmental awareness. In the plastic packaging segment, on the other hand, there has been a significant decline, which is mainly due to regulatory uncertainties and delays in the implementation of EU directives. However, the industry could also benefit in the long term from the new framework conditions with environmentally friendly solutions.
According to estimates by Santander Bank Polska, the Polish packaging market will be worth around €13 billion (PLN 60 billion) in 2022. However, the industry suffered from rising energy and raw material prices, limited access to raw materials and the war in Ukraine. Despite demand rising again since the end of 2022 and falling raw material costs, profit margins remain in decline, especially for manufacturers of plastic, paper and cardboard packaging. High gas prices are a particular burden on manufacturers of glass packaging.
In 2022, the Polish packaging industry recorded growth of almost 20 percent. However, this development was mainly due to price increases. There were increases mainly in the sales of wooden packaging (40 percent compared to 2021), glass bottles (16 percent) and metals (14 percent).
About six million tonnes of packaging are produced annually in Poland. The share of this sector in total industrial processing is 3.4 percent, almost twice the EU average. The food industry is the main consumer of packaging in Poland and is responsible for about 60 percent of consumption. It is followed by the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries with a share of about seven and six percent respectively.
As for the individual material types, plastic packaging accounts for about 40 percent of Polish consumption, half of which is flexible and the other half rigid. Paper packaging accounts for about 37 percent, light metals for twelve percent and glass for about ten percent of consumption.
Robust export ratio
In value terms, exports from the Polish packaging sector increased by a remarkable 30 percent year-on-year in the first three quarters of 2022. However, the individual segments present a mixed picture. The strongest growth can be seen in wooden packaging. Pallets dominate, which is due to the replacement of deliveries from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Almost 30 percent of the pallets imported in 2021 still came from the Ukrainian market and another 15 percent or so from Belarus.
Exports of plastic and aluminium packaging increased at a lower rate than the industry average during this period. Excluding price increases, packaging exports increased by around five percent. However, excluding wood packaging, which accounts for almost 50 percent of total industry exports by weight, foreign sales are on par with the previous year.
In terms of packaging export growth, Poland is systematically strengthening its position on the European market. For paper and cardboard packaging, domestic producers rank second in the EU in terms of growth. Measured by the total export value, the country ranks third behind Germany and the Netherlands.
Recycling targets still a long way off
In the coming years, the entire sector faces major changes. Stricter recycling obligations, the financing of the waste management system and environmentally friendly solutions are challenges that need to be overcome. After all, Poland is still far from achieving the recycling rates for packaging waste required by the EU.
According to the IOŚ-PIB (Polish Institute for Environmental Protection), only 45 percent of packaging waste was recycled in Poland in 2020. The lowest recycling efficiency was recorded at 28.6 percent for plastic packaging waste and the highest at 60.4 percent for paper and cardboard packaging waste. The current directive on packaging and packaging waste stipulates that at least 65 percent of all packaging be recycled by 2025 and at least 70 percent by 2030. There is not necessarily room for improvement on the producer side. According to a survey by the Interzero Packaging Recovery Organisation, only 51 percent of the population sorts their waste – despite existing recycling options. Only with better information and the enforcement of disposal rules could Poland also achieve a leading position in Europe in terms of sustainability.