K 2016

Cautious optimism

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Closing the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling

Apart from concerns about sufficient raw materials and energy supply, there is also increasing awareness in Europe that more must be done regarding the use, re-use and conservation of valuable plastics. Late last year, the European Commission adopted what it views as an ambitious new "Circular Economy Package" (CEP). It aims to "contribute to closing the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy."

The Commission has also proposed a revision of waste legislation. Among the key elements of the proposal are a common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030, and a ban on landfilling of separately collected waste. "Less than 25% of plastic waste is recycled and approximately 50% is disposed on landfills", the Commission says.


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Plastics Europe, the association of European plastics manufacturers, has welcomed CEP "as a further step towards resource efficiency", but has also expressed concerns. "For a long time, the European plastics industry has been calling for a legally binding restriction on landfilling for all recyclable post-consumer waste by 2025", the association says. "Even though a 10% target is a step in the right direction, it still remains a half-hearted attempt to end landfilling of all waste that can be used as a resource."

European Bioplastics (EUBP), the association of bioplastics suppliers, commented the Commission's report more positively, saying that "future-oriented sectors with distinct environmental advantages and growth potential, such as bioplastics, should be supported." The association forecasts that production capacities for bioplastics in the EU will increase twenty-fold to 5.7 million tonnes by 2025.

Despite all these concerns, Europe's plastics industry is decidedly forward-looking. Many European machine manufacturers exhibiting at the K 2016 will prominently feature the number 4.0 at their stands, thus promoting the 'smart' factories they operate in the "industrial Internet of things" (IIoT). 4.0 stands for Industry 4.0, a term primarily coined in Germany. It refers to a development many regard as the fourth industrial revolution - and also to the German government's plan for ensuring the leading global role of Germany’s industry in the future. Advocates of Industry 4.0 view it as a paradigm shift away from centralised towards decentralised production.

A new industrial revolution?

"Most of all, Industry 4.0 is a huge opportunity we want to take together with our customers," says Dr Stefan Edwards, CTO of injection moulding specialist Engel. However, he does not find the term "revolution" really appropriate for this development. "The transformation we are currently experiencing is more a kind of evolution," he explains. "For us, Industry 4.0 is not a new concept, but in many areas already a longstanding practice in our daily work." Other industrial players would surely agree.

GKV's Westerheide is convinced that new digital technologies will open up new perspectives for plastics converters as well. He says: "K 2016 will be an excellent opportunity for us to explore the benefits of digitisation for our industry."

The plastics industry in ASEAN remains unperturbed by global developments that are impacting the growth path of key industries.

The new norm of economic growths and trends, such as oil prices, variable supply and demand, and weakening of most Asian currencies against the US dollar, have presented opportunities for Southeast Asia’s plastics industry. The latter factors have allowed the region’s countries to rediscover their strengths to sustain growth, either individually or as a part of the collective grouping of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

From challenges to opportunities: ASEAN plastics industry healthy

The ten member states making up ASEAN include Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. ASEAN’s fertile consumer base, with a combined population of over 600 million and a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion, and presence in the global market, enables the region to tap into the right opportunities, relying on the region’s rising middle class sector and substantial consumer base.

One of ASEAN’s top export sectors by value is plastics and plastic products, earning $39.3bn in export revenues in 2013, the International Trade Statistics reported.

The sector’s production rates have witnessed a steady average growth over the recent years, especially in the ASEAN-6, the International Trade Statistics reported: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, which account for more than 95% of regional GDP, according to McKinsey & Company. Countries like Cambodia and Myanmar are growing strongly, with increased economic liberalisation and development, but will still contribute only a small percentage of manufacturing foreign direct investment (FDI) in the coming years.