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Circular Economy is “Hottest Ticket” for the Global Plastics and Rubber Industries

Circular Economy is “Hottest Ticket” for the Global Plastics and Rubber Industries
Circular Economy is “Hottest Ticket” for the Global Plastics and Rubber Industries

Globally, the plastics industry is focusing on sustainability through recycling and the use of renewable resources – that is the message from K 2019, the leading global trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry, which was held during October in Düsseldorf, Germany.

According to the organizers, the approximately 224,116 visitors from 168 countries took great interest in recycling systems, sustainable raw materials, and resource-saving processes. “Especially in turbulent times platforms such as K are indispensable. It provides guidance and perspectives, is an economic driver, shows forward-looking trends and concrete approaches. The industry and its professional associations enjoyed the unique opportunity here to present sector-specific solutions and debate questions of socio-political relevance on a global scale. And they have capitalized on this opportunity outstandingly well,” says Werner Matthias Dornscheidt, President and CEO of Messe Düsseldorf.

This view is supported by exhibitors: “At the joint Fraunhofer pavilion 11 institutes showcased innovative, sustainable and

 efficient solutions and developments for converting plastics. A great number of our visitors – especially from Germany, Italy, China and India – voiced a demand for recycling, bio-based plastics, resource efficiency and circular economy, and for the up-cycling of polyethylentherephthalate (LBF). This means that the trade fair and our exhibits responded very well to the trends also of relevance in society,” says Prof. Dr. Christian Oehr, Deputy Head of the Institute, Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB

Dornscheidt says the feedback from the 3,330 exhibitors from 63 nations showed that plastics continue to be an indispensable material thanks to industry innovation. They unanimously underscored the necessity of having operational circular economies along the complete material chain and to this end already presented numerous concrete solutions, he adds.

Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Chairman of the Exhibitor Advisory Board at K 2019, says “the plastics and rubber industry succeeded in proving once again that plastics are not only very valuable materials with outstanding properties but also that this industry assumes responsibility along the entire value chain. The buzzwords at K 2019 ‘Reflect. Re-Think. Think Laterally. Think Afresh.’ were mirrored 1:1 by exhibitor stands.

“Never before has the industry addressed an issue so unanimously and worked on solutions so consistently as is the case now in the fields of environmental compatibility, saving resources and avoiding waste. There is a spirit of new departures prevailing in the industry and current dynamics are overwhelming.”

And the positive mood prevailing at K 2019 was also echoed by concrete demand at exhibition stands: “It became clear that global demand for innovative machinery and raw materials is particularly high right now, despite the current tensions in world trade or the business climate in some consumer sectors. This year’s K has by far exceeded our expectations and was able to generate key impetus for sustainable governance and new business models,” said Reifenhäuser.

Some 60% of visitors rated the current economic climate as “very good” and “good”. Nearly as many expect the situation to be similar over the next two months. The four main focus areas for visitors were product range expansion, increased efficiency, circular economy, ( the sustainability of their products), and the sustainability of their production.

Machinery and equipment manufacturing, the biggest segment at K 2019 with 1,975 exhibitors, was also centerstage in terms of visitor interest, with two-thirds of all people surveyed mentioning this area first. Around 52% said they were primarily interested in raw materials and auxiliaries whereas, for 28% of visitors, semi-finished products and technical plastics and rubber parts were the major reason for coming (multiple choices possible).

Once again K scored points as the platform for the premieres of many forward-looking products and applications to a global audience. “We found the propensity to invest extremely high and across all nations. In particular, business with new customers was very positive this year. We are also very confident about very strong follow-up business,” says Reifenhäuser.

Over half the decision-makers from the industry stated they had come to Düsseldorf with concrete investment intentions. For visitors from throughout the world investment in expansion ranked particularly high on the list, especially in extruders and extrusion lines, injection molding machines, as well as machinery and equipment for reclamation and recycling. The survey polling visitors at K also showed that interest in recycling systems is noticeably higher abroad than in Germany.

Advances in flexible materials – rubbers and thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) – also proved to be popular with visitors. Although the elastomer segment has traditionally been smaller than the plastics range at K, there was a high number of exhibitors presenting elastomer-specific products and converting processes – be it raw materials, additives or compounds, special machines and equipment for reclamation and converting.

The extensive supporting program at K 2019 included keynotes and high-caliber discussions on issues such as on renewable energies, material efficiency and zero-waste production. There was strong support from the international visitors, especially the special K 2019 “Plastics shape the Future” program.

In 2019 there was also strong interest in the innovative power of the material and the industry in terms of resource-saving processes, digitalization, functionality, renewable energies, circularity and sustainability. Discussions included such critical themes as marine litter, the throw-away mentality associated with plastic packaging and the use of finite resources for their production.

One of the highlights was a humanoid robot that was built during K 2019 by young researchers from FabLab Lübeck e.V. to give delegates insight into a future where additive manufacturing and robotics are combined with cutting-edge materials such as plastics.

Visitor profile

The nations especially well represented on the part of visitors after Germany were Italy, the Netherlands, India, Turkey and China, followed by the USA. There was a marked increase in the number of trade visitors from the Russian Federation, Japan and Brazil, according to the organisers.

Visitors came from all key user industries – from packaging, construction and automotive to electrical and medical device technology and agriculture. Overall, they awarded top marks to the ranges displayed in the 18 exhibition halls: 96% were impressed with the ranges exhibited at K 2019, 95% confirmed they had achieved 100% of their objectives over the course of their visits.

The number of executives among K visitors rose again. Some 68% of visitors came from top or middle management. Results from the visitor survey confirmed a view held by exhibitors – namely that the international origin of visitors had increased, to 73.1% as compared with 70.8% in 2016. Over 42% of all foreign visitors came from outside Europe – travelling to the Rhine from Angola, Burkina-Faso, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mongolia, Myanmar, French Polynesia or Tajikistan. Delegates from Asia accounted for the biggest group of foreign visitors, with 40,000 visitors from South, East and Central Asia. India had the highest number of visitors, while visitor attendance from China and Japan was up considerably, according to the organizers.

Almost 20,000 visitors travelled to K 2019 from North and South America, which corresponds to a 7% increase. There was an especially marked increase in the number of guests from Brazil.

In terms of guests from the neighboring European countries Italy dominated with over 10,000 visitors, followed by the Netherlands (approx. 9,000), Turkey (over 7,500) France (over 6,700), Belgium (over 6,300), Spain (over 5,100) and Russia (some 5,000).

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