NEW DELHI (Feb. 9, 4:25 p.m. ET) — India's signature plastics industry trade show, Plastindia, needs some major structural reforms to keep up with its growth, according to the soon-to-depart head of the Plastindia Foundation, which organizes the show.
The show, which happens every three years and held its latest edition Feb. 1-6 in New Delhi, this year hit 1.07 million square feet of exhibition space, making it what it said was the third-largest plastics show in the world. That would trail only Germany's K Fair and the Chinaplas exhibition, organizers said, and surpass shows in the United States and Japan.
But in a Feb. 4 interview at his offices on the show grounds, the president of the Delhi-based Plastindia Foundation, Ashok Goel, said the show continues to be stymied because the 30-year-old trade fair complex in Delhi where it is held, Pragati Maidan, is the only one in India capable of hosting the event.
He also called for organizational changes within the foundation to better support the show.
“We need to bring in some structural reforms,” said Goel, who is stepping down from his three-year term as president, a volunteer position. “This is not a sustainable model, the way that the Plastindia exhibition is organized.”
Goel also is vice chairman and managing director of Indian multinational plastic packaging firm Essel Propack Ltd. in Mumbai.
He said those changes should include more staff and streamlining the organizational structure.
“The structure that has been put in place, this was valid for some years, some editions, is it still valid anymore?” he asked. “I have my serious doubts.”
Goel declined to offer details, telling a reporter that “you are walking me through the bed of nails… Rather than me going into great detail, people will start to build their defenses, so I don't want to talk so much about it.”
But he believes support is growing within the industry for changes.
“I think it can be done,” he said. “There are more and more people thinking like this. I only hope the committee members who are there, the majority of them I can persuade them to think that way.”
One of the key challenges for the show is the age of the Pragati Maidan fairgrounds, he said.
“The fact is that the major problem is in India we don't have any other alternative to Pragati Maidan,” Goel said. “This was built 30 years ago. Thirty years ago things were different, the way of thinking was different, the objectives were different, and it has not undergone the change.”
He said the current government would like to upgrade the facility, but it is a big task.
The financial health of the show is important to the Indian industry's broader efforts to modernize. For example, it's been a major source of the $6 million the foundation plans to use to jumpstart its Plastindia International University project for training engineers, he said.
Goel also provided an update on other Plastindia Foundation activities, including its efforts to extend its plastic-related agricultural programs and boost recycling, both of which he said could also help deal with the negative image of plastics in India.
For the agricultural programs, Goel said the foundation is focusing on helping “marginalized” farmers, those with three acres or less, to buy plastic micro-irrigation equipment to boost yields and reduce water use.
The foundation is working with the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development to help support purchases of irrigation equipment on the first acre of land, with an industry program helping to subsidize the 2nd and 3rd acres of land, Goel said.
“Because we are doing this on marginalized farmers, [companies] take this as a corporate social responsibility,” Goel said.
The program, which was previously announced by the foundation, is in its trial phase, he said. Plastindia has found some non-governmental organizations to help manage the program with the agricultural bank, and is searching for more, he said.
“What we are trying to do is reach out to the farmers directly, and create a sort of group of farmers and an NGO sitting over who should have some agronomist resources available, and through us partnering and we bring in the system providers,” he said.
Both the agricultural programs and a separate effort to develop four pilot recycling plants in major cities could help the industry with its battered image in India, he said.
Goel said he wants Plastindia to support creating four recycling centers in major cities that will collect un-separated municipal plastic waste and use it as raw material for products such as wood-plastic composite lumber.
“I want to create these model plants in at least four metro cities, where the municipal plastic waste without segregation is put into a processing unit where a useful product is made out of that,” he said.
The goal, he said, is to “create a business model and hand it over to an entrepreneur.” The first, in Kolkata is scheduled to open late next year, he said.
Governments in India have enacted plastic-related restrictions like bag bans, and speakers at various events at the Plastindia show said the material is associated with litter and waste problems in Indian public opinion.
“Of course industry needs to do more – there is no denial of that,” Goel said, but he added that the industry's resources are limited.
As an example of what could be done, he pointed to plastics industry support a decade ago to help recycling centers acquire compressing and baling equipment to make recycling of PET bottles easier.
“We have to go on in a positive way, demonstrate that, and every effort is an add-on,” he said. “I'm not saying there is only one solution.”