Whereas boasts and bravado about plastics recycling and waste management took center stage at K'92, the topic provided an important but less-dominant theme at the just-concluded K'95 exhibition. There was no shortage of recycling machinery or promotion of recycled-content materials or products at this year's eight-day event. But the industry now is projecting a different, more confident tone. That is by design, said Nancy Russotto, director general of the Brussels, Belgium-based Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe.
``Three years ago, we really didn't have much to say. We were vulnerable, on the defensive,'' she said, referring to the lack of supporting data and a unified approach among Europe's plastics producers.
The industry's players, rocked back on their collective heels, did their best in 1992 to highlight any progress they made or were attempting in recycling, reuse and reduction, and thereby helped to contribute to a ``green'' theme at K'92. They were projecting their messages to a stubbornly skeptical, if not cynical, audience.
``Now, we're much better prepared. We're no longer just pushing arguments - we're providing information,'' with much of it backed by in-depth, scientifically valid studies, said Russotto.
Additionally, ``The world we're talking to is much better prepared to listen,'' she said. As a result of the additional, empirical evidence now available, she maintains Europe's decision makers are more receptive to the messages from APME's members and others in the plastics industry.
Nevertheless, Russotto warns, ``The industry still doesn't know how little the public knows about plastics.'' That's one reason APME's K'95 booth consisted of its own outdoor pavilion, with displays highlighting the roles of various plastics materials in everyday applications - from medicine to transportation to computers.
Russotto said the situation in Europe is similar to that in North America in the continuing lack of understanding among lawmakers and the public as to the size and importance of the plastics industry to the various national economies.
``We need to quantify ourselves - and we just did,'' she said. Citing new statistics from APME's resin-producing members, she said those firms generate annual resin-related sales equal to 26 billion European Currency Units, or about $33.7 billion. She said they employ 70,000 full-time and contract workers and invest $700 million in research and development annually. Western Europe employs about another 100,000 in plastics processing.
While sharing a general public underappreciation of its economic importance and clout, the European and North American plastics industries differ in other respects. Americans, Russotto pointed out, aren't faced with the problem of disappearing landfills that exists in Europe. Nor are they confronted with as much federal legislation as are European Community members.
To Russotto, the resulting progress is palpable. It manifested itself subtly at K'95 in the nature of a strong, yet understated environmental message - one driven by quiet confidence and a sense of the mission that lies ahead, rather than by fear.