Some random thoughts while visiting the K 2007 trade show in Dusseldorf, Germany:
* The plastics industry always seems to feel more international at big events like K and NPE. It's truly fascinating to see so many delegations - and exhibitors - gathering in one place from all corners of the world.
K, with its contingents from all over Europe, plus Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North and South America, has a cosmopolitan atmosphere that's hard to duplicate.
I remember being at K in 1992, just three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of European communism.
We wrote several stories that year about how plastics companies in Eastern Europe, including the big injection molding machinery plants, were going to fare in the new free-market economy. It was interesting to talk to suppliers about how they viewed the economic conditions and worker attitudes in Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and the former East Germany.
At the time, I remember sources at Western machinery and resin suppliers were skeptical about the former Soviet bloc processors' ability to survive - what with all the overstaffing and poor work habits they had ingrained in their culture under communist rule.
But it did not take that long for entrepreneurs in Eastern Europe to start to compete - and for original equipment manufacturers and Western companies to start to shift work there to take advantage of the lower costs and burgeoning capitalistic enthusiasm.
* Sustainability is the buzzword of the plastics industry in 2007. Machinery and materials companies are talking about how they can help make plastics products environmentally friendlier. But there's a significant difference in how people define sustainability.
Wilfried Haensel, executive director of Brussels, Belgium-based resin suppliers trade group PlasticsEurope, explained to me that in Germany, sustainability translates as ``energy efficiency.'' In the United Kingdom, the emphasis seems to be on recycling - an issue that Germany resolved a decade ago.
In North America, I've seen sustainability defined a variety of ways, usually depending on whatever feature a company is trying to sell - or whatever product an activist is trying to ban.
Some people think sustainability eventually is going to boil down to calculations of carbon dioxide consumption. That would make material comparisons a lot easier, but I doubt that things are going to get that simple any time soon.
For now, all we have to go by sometimes are semiscientific life-cycle analyses, which try to measure environmental impacts, but may overweigh or underweigh various factors, depending on who is doing the analysis.
Don Loepp is managing editor of Plastics News.