The K show in Düsseldorf, Germany, is held every three years, and lately there's always a theme. Not a theme like a children's birthday party. There are no Star Wars cups or mermaid cakes. K has serious themes related to business.
In 2013, it was all about sustainability. In 2016, the buzz was about Industry 4.0. This time, it was all about the circular economy.
In the months prior to the K show, which took place Oct. 16-23, I could tell that the circular economy was the topic that organizers and exhibitors wanted to talk about. But the pessimistic side of me thought it would be overshadowed by the lousy economy in Germany, Brexit uncertainty, the U.S.-China trade war and the growing public pressure to ban some plastic products.
People still talked about those issues, of course. But attendance at this year's show was down only about 2 percent, to approximately 225,000, according to Messe Düsseldorf, the organizer.
I think Werner Matthias Dornscheidt, president and CEO of Messe Düsseldorf, was right when he said this at the closing news conference: "K 2019 came at precisely the right point in time. Its enormous importance for the sector is underpinned by its high acceptance levels all over the world. There is no other place the industry is represented so internationally and completely as here in Düsseldorf every three years."
This year, K had visitors from 165 countries, up from 160 in 2016. Behind Germany, the top countries represented were Italy, Netherlands, India, Turkey and China, followed by the United States.
Messe Düsseldorf reported a significant increase in the number of visitors from Russia, Japan and Brazil.
Dornscheidt and Ulrich Reifenhäuser, chairman of the exhibitor advisory board, both noted the positive attitude that the industry brought to discussions about the circular economy. Reifenhäuser said that in the year leading up to the show, he saw a lot of coverage of plastics that he called "bad media bashing."
"The benefits of plastics were not covered at all. It was very one-sided," he said. Reifenhäuser said the plastics industry does have a huge waste problem. "The good thing is the plastics industry realizes it," he said.
He noted that several K exhibitors showed innovative machinery and materials to make plastic pouches out of a single recyclable material, such as polyethylene or polyester. "The big brand owners … are really thrilled about these new solutions," Reifenhäuser said.
It's a positive step that the plastics industry isn't fighting this trend. Companies are exploring ways to help usher in this new era. One recycling equipment company told me on the last day of the show that he feels that the industry has taken an important first step on the journey to a circular economy.
There's a long way to go, but consumers, especially younger people, are demanding change.
Would anyone like to predict how much progress we'll see by the next K show? Tune in Oct. 19-26, 2022.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.