Guangzhou, China — The environmental message at Chinaplas 2019 was pretty simple: The industry needs to find a way to address public worries around plastic waste or it risks future growth if consumers view plastics as a problem.
"If we're not able to address it, I think there is a risk," said Bambang Candra, the Singapore-based commercial vice president for Asia-Pacific in Dow Inc.'s packaging and specialty plastics unit, during a news conference that delved heavily into environmental issues.
It was a recurring theme at media events and interviews at Chinaplas, which normally focuses on opportunities for plastics growth from the expanding middle class in China and the rest of Asia.
Those growth opportunities were still being touted, of course, but they were tempered by concerns that if the waste worries are not addressed, long-term growth may suffer.
Chinaplas, held May 21-24 in Guangzhou, is one of the world's two-largest plastics fairs.
Befitting the audience of industry professionals, machinery companies talked about their stepped-up efforts to develop new technology to process lower grades of recycled plastics and suggested how Industry 4.0 data technologies could help.
Materials makers, for their part, outlined research efforts to use more recycled plastics and talked about industry-funded projects to build waste collection infrastructure in developing economies in Asia.
Matthias Sieverding, president of extrusion technology for Germany's KraussMaffei Berstorff GmbH, told a news conference that environmental concerns will be the top challenge for industry in the next decade.
He noted with China's National Sword banning imports of waste plastic — and public pressure worldwide — brand owners are telling the plastics industry to "come up with wholesale solutions … to show that we are able to tackle the problem and move forward."
"We believe there's a lot of potential that the best 50 years of the plastics industry are still ahead of us, there are many more uses for our product, but we have to make sure the public is not losing faith that we can handle the challenges," Sieverding said. "A lot of development we do in our tech center is revolving around the issue of recycling."