What's in a name? In the Chinese plastics recycling industry, apparently quite a bit.
ChinaReplas is one of the country's best-known conferences dealing with recycled plastic — not a bad position to have in the world's largest import market for many types of recycled polymers.
Its name has become such a prominent brand among recyclers that a new recycling association there has adopted ChinaReplas as the name for a new series of conferences. That's drawn the ire of the established Chinese group that started ChinaReplas in 2006.
Imagine if a company in North America started a new technical conference and called it Antec, after the well-known SPE event, and you get the idea.
Now, with both Chinese groups planning their own versions of a conference called ChinaReplas in early November — in different cities and on overlapping days — a dispute that had festered behind closed doors has burst into the open.
On one side is the Plastic Recycling Committee of the China Plastic Processing Industry Association, which held the first Replas in 2006 and has grown it into a conference with hundreds of attendees, including government officials, and dozens of exhibiting companies.
On the other is the China Scrap Plastics Association, a new group formed this year and headed by a former longtime senior staffer at PRC-CPPIA, who left that group in late 2011 in a dispute with its leaders.
The two organizations have traded sometimes-pointed public statements, with PRC-CPPIA suggesting that CSPA, which is registered in Hong Kong, lacks legal standing to operate in mainland China. CPPIA took pains to emphasize that there is no connection between the two Replas events.
CSPA, in turn, said in a Sept. 6 statement that PRC-CPPIA wants to “monopolize the management and administration” of the scrap plastics industry, and accused PRC-CPPIA of spreading rumors about its event.
“The industry needs an organization to lead the development of the industry, and really do some substantial things,” CSPA said, arguing that CPPIA has not been doing that, which it called a “serious dereliction of duty.”
“We remind those people who misconduct their powers in PRC-CPPIA, they will be cast aside by the industry enterprises. Their despicable actions are doomed to be nailed to the history of shame,” CSPA said.
But PRC-CPPIA rejected the critiques, arguing that it has remained active and worked hard since it was formed in 2005 to build the industry and strengthen ties with government officials.
That's an important task in an industry very dependent on imported scrap and the regulations surrounding it, the group said.
The head of PRC-CPPIA said CSPA is using the ChinaReplas name to confuse the public.
“That is the whole reason, to confuse people,” said Toland Lam, president of CPPIA's Plastic Recycling Committee and one of its founders in 2005. “This is our name; they should not use it.”
Lam said using the Replas name undercuts CSPA arguments that his group is not doing a good enough job: “If [PRC-CPPIA] did not do a good job, why are they using our name?”
The lines between the groups sometimes blur. An advertisement that CSPA took out in a U.S. recycling magazine to promote its ChinaReplas uses the email address [email protected], which could suggest a link to the other, CPPIA-backed group.
When questioned about it, CSPA officials said it was a mistake, a holdover from past work, and the email address would not be used in the future.
Amid the rhetoric, one thing is certain: from 2006-11, PRC-CPPIA held six annual ChinaReplas conferences and exhibitions in various Chinese cities.
CSPA is headed by Jason Wang, the former vice secretary-general of PRC-CPPIA. It held its first ChinaReplas event in Shanghai in April, calling it the seventh edition, and is calling its upcoming event, slated for Nov. 6-7 in Beijing, the eighth Replas.
In a further bit of confusion, PRC-CPPIA, which holds its event only once a year in the fall — the next one is scheduled for Nov. 4-6 in Ningbo, is calling its event the seventh ChinaReplas, picking up count from its last conference.
In a telephone interview from his Beijing office, CSPA's Wang said PRC-CPPIA does not own the ChinaReplas name.
He said the name actually belongs to a consulting company that Wang started in 2004, Beijing GuoJia Jiye Information Co. Ltd., which is now run by Wang's wife, Cheng Zhi Qiong.
Beijing Guojia, which handled many management tasks for the ChinaReplas events, had a contract with CPPIA through 2013. But Wang maintains that when his employment with the association ended, the name Replas reverted to the consulting company.
In a Sept. 10 statement to Plastics News, CPPIA disagreed.
“Wang is not authorized by CPPIA to use the ‘ChinaReplas' name, so his use is fraudulent — just like how a chauffeur has no right to drive away the employer's car after the termination of an employment,” CPPIA said.
CPPIA said ChinaReplas contains the word China, and under Chinese laws, it's not allowed to be registered as a trademark: “Wang certainly doesn't own it.”
In response, Wang proposed his own analogy in a Sept. 10 phone interview: “If a couple get divorced, and the mother doesn't ask for the custody of the child, so the father raises the child on his own — then the mother comes back and claims custody too — what do you say?”
He said PRC-CPPIA never directly contacted him regarding the use of the name. “It was in January when I started marketing my first conference,” he said. “Why didn't they tell me if they had a problem with it? If they did, we could have sat down and talked about it.”
Wang, who worked for CPPIA for six years, suggested he left because of ruffled feathers with some companies. Lam said it was a dispute over how “commercial” to make PRC-CPPIA, with Wang pushing for more frequent events to make money, while the leaders worried about event quality.
Wang disputed PRC-CPPIA's statement that CSPA lacks legal standing to operate in mainland China. Speaking through a translator, he said the group has researched the question extensively: “We cannot find any laws that say a Hong Kong group cannot hold meetings. We have checked a lot.”
Wang said CSPA is a credible group, with about 50 member companies, and its Shanghai conference attracted 300 people, six government ministries and more than 50 exhibitors.
In another wrinkle, PRC-CPPIA said in a statement that CSPA's offices were raided by Chinese authorities in March and more than a thousand copies of CSPA's China Scrap Plastics Magazine were seized because they did not have a publication number issued by mainland Chinese authorities.
Wang disputed that, saying that authorities actually seized old copies of a magazine written by Beijing Guojia on behalf of PRC-CPPIA.
China Scrap Plastics Magazine was also registered in Hong Kong, as a branch of the CSPA.
One thing both groups agree on is the scope of the challenges facing the industry.
Wang said CSPA is ready to help the industry deal with challenges from new regulations, in addition to trying to get government to change rules that are outdated. Industry also needs to work to clean up some recycling operations, particularly smaller ones, he said.
Lam said the spring “Replas” event affiliated with CSPA did confuse some companies and government officials who thought it was a CPPIA event.
He maintains, though, that the CPPIA group already has strong ties with government from its years of work.
Lam, who owns recycler T&T Hi-Tech Development Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, said he has headed the recycling committee for seven years as an unpaid volunteer, and said the group's goal is not to make money but to be a forum for industry.
He said the committee's work does pay off for industry. As an example, he said the group in the last year succeeded in getting government officials to listen to industry concerns about clearance time for scrap plastics getting through ports, he said.
“It means we have an organization that the government already recognizes,” Lam said.
CPPIA said: “Wang's goal is to make the public believe his group is a traditional Chinese industry association like CPPIA.”