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Keywords of this article:  CHINAPLAS 
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In recent years, the topic of circular economy has received noteworthy attention in Europe. It is believed that circular economy will be the next major theme for the plastics industry as it provides companies a valuable and tangible opportunity to achieve a sustainable growth of business. At CHINAPLAS 2018, several organizations from Europe shed lights on this trending topic.

The new EU Strategy for Plastics will tackle the challenges posed by plastics.
The new EU Strategy for Plastics will tackle the challenges posed by plastics.

In the past few decades, the world start moving away from the traditional linear economy of “take, make, dispose” mode of production to embrace the circular economy.

The shift to a more circular economy, where the value of materials and resources is retained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste reduced, aiming to develop a low carbon, competitive and sustainable economy.

Due to the constraints of natural resources, changes in consumers’ views and market expectations, the on-going transformation is taking place in the consumption and production chains.

Every year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. Plastics make up 85% of beach litter all around the world. In light of this, the EU Commission has defined plastics as one of five key areas in its Circular Economy Action Plan to tackle the issue.

It sets out a clear commitment to formulating a strategy that addressed the challenges posed by plastics throughout the value chain and taking into account their whole life cycle, such as reuse, recyclability, biodegradability, the existence of harmful substances of concerns in certain plastics and marine litter.

In January 2018, as part of its constant effort to shift the EU's economy into a more sustainable one and to execute its Circular Economy Action Plan, the Commission implemented a new set of measures, including a Europe-wide EU Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy and annex to transform the ways plastics and plastics products are designed, produced, used and recycled. Under the plan, all plastic packaging in the EU market should be recyclable by 2030.

The strategy also emphasizes the need for specific measures, possibly a legislative instrument, to reduce the impacts of single-use plastics, particularly in the ocean.

VDMA sees circular economy the next mega theme

Holding plastics up as a beneficial resource, the topics of circular economy and sustainability was put on VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association’s action plan.

Kühmann Thorsten, Managing Director of VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association.During an interview at CHINAPLAS 2018, Kühmann Thorsten, Managing Director of the Association, pointed out that circular economy will be the next major theme of the industry.

He commented that although plastic is a useful and valuable resource, it is not treated in the right way at the moment. For example, plastic ocean pollution is one of the crucial problems nowadays. In many countries, there is a huge demand for change in the industry.

Our industry must take care of the plastic pollution problems and we must be the one to deliver solutions. This is one of the top issues we are dealing with in German plastics and rubber machinery industry now, as circular economy will be the next mega theme we see after Industry 4.0,” he emphasized.

In his opinion, recycling is an important part for a successful circular economy in the plastics industry, but the whole concept is more than recycling. To solve the problems, he pointed out that people have to see the full picture, which starts from the production of the pellets. The whole manufacturing process of plastic products, including the use, re-use, reduction of materials, recycling, etc., should be considered.

If we don’t deliver solutions, we will be in trouble,” he cautioned. According to him, VDMA is now working on concepts on how they can play a part in circular economy.

Vision for circular economy set out in Italy

The Italian government has recently published a strategic paper on the promotion of circular economy in the nation, highlighting its commitment to the more efficient use of resources and sustainable production.

Alessandro Grassi, Chairman of AMAPLAST.The paper, entitled “Towards a Circular Economy Model in Italy”, was put forward by the Italy’s Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Development and is part of the broader national strategy for sustainable development.

The obligation of manufacturers to take responsibility for the whole life cycle of the product is emphasized in the paper, inviting industry practitioners to join hand together and develop collaboration for waste management.

Alessandro Grassi, Chairman of AMAPLAST (Italian Plastics and Rubber Processing Machinery and Molds Manufacturers’ Association), revealed that circular economy is new to the European approach of plastics.

“The idea is to have a short time for zero plastic to landfill. How can we make it? It means that people not only design the plastic products for the final applications but need to think about the end of the life of plastic products. The 3R principles (Reduce, Recycle and Reuse) for plastics need to be taken seriously,” he explained.

Austria recycling industries plays a vital role

According to the EU Environmental Implementation Review published by the EU Commission, Austria is among champion countries in the EU with regard to waste management.

With its long-standing experience and high recycling rates in the EU, Austrian recycling industries are well-positioned to play a vital role in the future transformation of the country towards a circular economy.

“Austria is known for being green and recycling is just part of it. Our Austrian companies are good at promoting technologies for recycling plastics and other products,” commented Christina Schösser, Consul (Commercial Affairs) at Austrian Consulate General Shanghai Commercial Section, at CHINAPLAS 2018.

Due to the stricter environmental protection policies imposed by the Chinese government, she believed that circular economy is gaining noteworthy attention in China.

Plastic is needed in every corner in our daily life. We start focusing more on the use, reuse and recycle of plastics and the entire manufacturing process, from raw materials, plastic processing to final products.”

New record year for German and Italian machinery manufacturers

The year of 2017 is a rewarding one for both German and Italian plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers despite financial slowdown. VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association and AMAPLAST announced the encouraging performance of the industry during the year.

According to VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, the German plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers rushed from one record to the next and increased their sales by another 5% in 2017.
Top 10 German plastics and rubber machinery export destinations.
Since the economic crisis, which had also affected the plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers, this had been the eighth year of growth in a row. The current boom has been lasting unusually long.

The pole position of the most important German sales markets was again occupied by the US last year. The value of plastics and rubber machinery, which was delivered from Germany to the US, added up to €847 million.

The most important total market, however, is China. Besides exports of €717 million (+14.3% compared to 2016), about another half billion could be added, which were produced by the plastics and rubber machinery manufacturers in China mainly for the local market.

Due to the companies’ full order books, the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association expects a growth of 3% in 2018.

On the other hand, AMAPLAST also announced its new all-time records for the sector with double digit increase over 2016 in all macroeconomic indicators.

AMAPLAST analyses show production sustained by excellent performance in exports, the destination for 70% of the Italian-made products in the sector, as well as by the domestic market. The expansion of the domestic market is also signaled by quite positive performance in imports.

Regarding macro-areas, the geography of exportation has witnessed overall growth in European destinations, mainly within the EU, where the top two export markets, Germany and France, have grown by more than 20% points since 2016.

However, the trend in sales to Asia has not been particularly brilliant due to a slowdown in exports to the Middle East (especially Saudi Arabia and Iran), and only modest growth (less than +5%) in sales to the Far East, where the two major markets have slipped: China (-2.5%) and India (-6%).

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