Hoping to build stronger links to the government and address concerns about plastic pollution, China's thermoforming industry is forming an ambitious new association aimed at boosting recycling and helping companies upgrade.
Leaders of the China Thermoforming Association said their new group wants to work on several fronts, including building a recycling demonstration base, working with the government on skilled worker shortages and creating national standards for thermoformed products.
"We hope to show [the] government that thermoformed plastic products can be still environmentally friendly if we do recycling systems correctly or [use] biodegradable thermoforming materials," said CTFA President Ben Ho, and an executive in the country's plastics machinery industry.
"We can force the machine makers to have higher standards, and we can help China reduce its plastic pollution," he said.
CTFA believes the thermoforming sector has a good story to tell about its products, but with China getting tougher on plastics in the environment — from banning imports of overseas plastic scrap to limiting plastic bags in Chinese grocery stores — the industry wants to step ahead of any concerns around its thermoformed packaging in food containers, consumer products and other applications.
Ho, who also is president of GSR International (Haining) Ltd., the sole sales agent in China for German thermoforming equipment maker Illig Maschinenbau GmbH, said the group wants to set up a demonstration base in eastern China to model best practices across the supply chain.
He said that would include all segments of the industry, from resin, extrusion, thermoforming, tooling, printing and packaging to recycling.
"We try to reduce the harm to the environment," he said, and that means "modern, clean production of machines with international standards, creating a national hygiene standard, and a closed loop recycling system with the government."
The group publicly launched at Chinaplas in April and has an annual budget of about 1.5 million Chinese yuan ($218,000). Ho was interviewed in early August.
Beyond trying to better address environmental issues, Ho said education is a priority. The industry does not have enough qualified thermoforming professionals.
CTFA will host a training program Sept. 24 at the Zhejiang Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, sponsored by 15 companies, among them China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) and Chinese PET maker Zhejiang Wankai New Materials Co. Ltd.
"We aim to establish the first thermoforming education in China in the next three to five years," Ho said. "Until now we have no chance to find professional technicians for our industry. We pay a lot of money to bring injection industry professionals to work in thermoforming."
CTFA plans to establish courses at local universities, sponsor trainings and establish relationships between universities and machine makers, as well as try to link Chinese universities with European universities.
The goal is to promote growth by better standardizing the industry in China, Ho said.
"We need the government to make national standards," he said. "When the standards are higher, those producers with higher standards have better business. [Currently] we have big competition on price. People can't understand why your product is more expensive. We need to do it via national standards."