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40 years and counting
By David Eldridge
Posted 23 October 2014
1974: war in the Middle East, high energy prices, West Germany wins the World Cup. 2014: war in the Middle East, high energy prices, Germany wins the World Cup. History may repeat itself in world affairs and sport, but that’s not been true for the plastics industry in the forty years since European Plastics News was launched.
The industry has come on in leaps and bounds in the past four decades: in the development of high-performance materials, the multiple innovations in manufacturing technology and the penetration of many new market sectors. Plastics have helped improve the delivery of healthcare, answer problems of lightweighting in cars, contribute to more energy-efficient housing, and transport water and other vital amenities to communities.
These achievements are raised by the industry leaders we surveyed in this 40th anniversary issue (see p20-23). It has been a good opportunity to pause and acknowledge the benefits that plastics have brought. 
Plastics also have vital roles in the mega-trends now emerging: a growing world population, climate change and environmental protection. The executives point to sustainability as being the biggest challenge for the industry. With the challenge comes an opportunity, and demand for solutions involving – for example, lightweight technologies and plastics from renewable resources – is only likely to increase. Many also foresee a growing amount of integration and interconnectivity – in the products and systems that plastics companies make, and also in the way companies work. 
Looking back over forty years shows that development trends in plastics track societal changes, because of the wide application of plastics throughout human activity. Predictions may be risky, but it is safe to say plastics will continue to follow the contours of society as it takes shape in the 21st century.
To be best prepared for the challenges of this century, the plastics industry’s leaders recognise the need for vision – not just within their own companies but in the industry as a whole.

Recent Columns

Rumours have been circulating for most of this year and Bayer has now confirmed it will spin off its MaterialScience business, comprising polycarbonates, polyurethanes and a mix of coatings, adhesives and specialties.  23 October 2014

In July, Corporate Europe Observatory, a campaign group that focuses on corporate influence in EU policy making, called for the scrapping of the position of Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) to the President of the European Commission.  11 September 2014

The headline announcement by the European Commission on 2 July sets EU-wide targets to recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030 and to work towards ending the landfilling of recyclable waste by 2025. But the Commission’s plans for a “circular economy” are even more ambitious and wide ranging. 28 July 2014

A new campaign is aiming to promote the virtues of expanded polystyrene, giving the material the new consumer-friendly name of Airpop.  10 June 2014

These are interesting times for com-pounding companies. Demand for their products has recovered well after the 2008-09 economic downturn. As our article on A Schulman’s takeover of Perrite shows, some companies are showing the confidence to invest and grow. 8 May 2014

Our 3D printing feature on pages 14-17 of this issue shows a sector of contrasts. 1 April 2014

The use of natural fibres in plastic components is being investigated by a growing number of companies and research groups in automotive and other markets. 7 March 2014

When European Plastics News created its Automotive Surfaces conference, which took place in Berlin in November, one of the reasons for devising the event was the emerging trend for functional surfaces in cars. We had previously run a conference on decorative automotive plastics, covering the variety of technologies and applications in which plastics have been used to greatly improve car interiors in the past decade. Now, surfaces are acquiring functional uses, through touch screen panels and controls, and the Automotive Surfaces conference was a success because it showed how car makers and their suppliers are quickly reacting to consumer desire for this exciting development. 14 February 2014

The wave of measures by EU countries in recent years to reduce lightweight HDPE carrier bags has annoyed plastics organisations. They think it is unfair to pick on plastics and ignore other materials; they question the environmental merit of switching to paper and other alternatives; and they do not like the ramshackle environmental policy-making behind plastic bag taxes, levies and bans. 7 January 2014

At the closing press conference for K 2013, Ulrich Reifenhäuser, chairman of the exhibitors’ advisory board, said he had previously hoped the exhibition would “really inject a fresh breeze for the industry,” and that his hopes were exceeded. He may have been speaking from the experience of past events, as nothing brings the plastics industry together better than the triennial K show. 20 December 2013

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