It was one hell of a [insert your adjective] year, but one thing you can't say is that it was boring. That was true of the movies—The Irishman! Ford v Ferrari! Once Upon a Time in Hollywood! Parasite!—music—Billie Eilish! Lizzo! Billie Eilish!—and, last but not least, politics—Trump! Brexit! Impeachment!
It was a year to remember for the plastics industry, as well, 2019 being a K year, after all. We had a great time at the show, discovering new products, identifying trends and catching up with folks in the industry from around the world.
But 2019 is winding down and our attention turns to the year ahead, which gave us the idea of asking people associated with the plastics industry what was on their wish list for 2020. Here's what they told us.
A special thanks to all of the folks who shared their 2020 wish lists with PlasticsToday, and now we invite you, dear readers, to share your wishes for the new year in the comments section below. And allow me to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a happy new year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear, as someone once sang.
Circularity of the economy is a must for the future
“As a materials innovation company, Eastman is working toward creating infinite value from our finite resources as we strive to improve the quality of life globally in a material way. We believe circularity of the economy is a must for the future and that chemical recycling is a critical tool for making that happen. In this arena, our greatest wish for 2020 is that chemical recycling becomes accepted as a legitimate recycling option, facilitated by a mass balance credit approach. As a subset of that, we want to see policies and infrastructure created to drive the collection, aggregation and distribution of plastic waste to companies like ours that can use it right now as a feedstock to create new, circular materials.”
—Mark Costa, Board Chair and CEO, Eastman
We will drive digitalization even further
“Digitalization is paving the way for solving some of the toughest challenges of our time. One important field are the emerging initiatives regarding the circular economy. Only by connecting companies along the value chain, will we be capable of implementing a sustainable recycling network. Digitalization is the enabler of a modern, healthy and eco-friendly life. For 2020, I wish that together, with our customers, we will drive digitalization even further.”
—Dr. Stefan Engleder, CEO, Engel Holding
Plastics is strong
“Plastic bans continue and may be gaining some momentum, but I can’t state the actual effects since much of it is based on emotion and there are hardly any better materials to replace plastics. We see more advances in plastics applications in the medical field that continue to save lives and push life expectancy. It’s too bad the public isn’t learning how plastics are saving lives and contributing to our sustainability. As governments add more bans and brand owners demand recycling, while China isn’t taking our trash, we might start to see the real change that I believe is possible. Landfills are not the answer.
"The U.S. division of Wittmann Battenfeld had a super year. After 12 years of a wonderful economic climb, I don’t expect 2020 growth necessarily, but if we actually do see growth, I will be very pleased.
"If we don’t follow the negative news media, we are still so fortunate here in the United States. Plastics is strong, and we all should be proud. If a partial slow down comes, just maybe we slow the issue we face in not having enough of a technical trained workforce and slow the challenges in such a low unemployment situation (technical unemployment is below 2%!).”
—David Preusse, President, Wittmann Battenfeld USA
Main image: Phunrawin/Adobe Stock
Three primary recovery strategies
“Why recover and not recycle? Because recycling, as we generally think of it, is only one of many ways in which materials (and their carbon sequestration and inherent energy values) can be recovered for purposes of circularity.
"For plastics, there are three primary recovery strategies, each with its own tactics: Polymer recovery via mechanical recycling; monomer recovery via chemical recycling; energy recovery via pyrolysis, thermal treatment, gasification, engineered fuels and so forth.
"The right strategy will be based on economic value and environmental efficiency (along with market requirements).”
—Robert Lilienfeld, Sustainable Packaging Consultant
A modernized recycling and recovery infrastructure
“Our wish is for a modernized recycling and recovery infrastructure. An important part of that is Congress passing the RECOVER and RECYCLE acts. The RECOVER Act will give federal grants to states and municipalities to invest in improving their recycling programs. Cities will be able to upgrade their recycling plants and will collect more materials rather than having them go to landfills. The RECYCLE Act will invest in educating consumers about their local recycling programs. Together, these bills will improve our nation’s ability to recycle.”
—Tony Radoszewski, President & CEO, Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS)
Our need to believe in miracles
“Both industry and the public should see that plastics are essentially harmless and nontoxic; that "how much" matters; that both the natural and the synthetic can be good, bad or neutral; and that the fear of chemistry comes from our need to believe in miracles, which responsible science must deny. Mystery, OK; magic, not.”
—Allan Griff, Extrusion Consultant and PlasticsToday columnist
The China tariff
“Absolute Haitian would like to see the China tariff situation stabilize during 2020 so that budgeting is more predictable for processors. We wish molding machine buyers would open their eyes to the value of strong aftermarket support. We see too many molders take a price-only view when making a purchase. They should consider total value, especially cost to operate (spare parts cost and availability). In 2019, Absolute Haitian picked up market share. We sure hope that 2020 brings more of the same.”
—Glenn Frohring, co-owner, Absolute Haitian
New class of smart polymers
“I believe more research should be applied to integrating nano-particle technology with polymer chemistry, yielding a new class of ‘smart polymers’ that could be manufactured with additive manufacturing. The end result would be polymers that mimic muscle tissue and fully animated products, which are controlled with AI signals. This would revolutionize robotics, prosthetics and an endless number of devices not yet conceived.”
—Michael Paloian, President, Integrated Design Systems Inc. and PlasticsToday contributor
Remember Smokey the Bear
“I would like to see efforts put into solving the problem of plastic ‘waste’ in the environment (and in the oceans, in particular) by teaching the consuming public that the problem is not the plastics or the products made from them but rather how the plastic products are used and improperly discarded after use. If our fellow world residents could take seriously how to properly dispose and either reuse or recycle used plastic products, we would go a long way toward solving the current problems. Remember Smokey the Bear and his campaign slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires”? Well, I think we need a similar campaign against those responsible for throwing plastic waste along roadsides, in our parks, waterways and ultimately in the so-called ‘ocean gyres.’”
— Len Czuba, President, Czuba Enterprises Inc.
Put a better face on plastics
“I wish our industry would be more proactive about the ‘problem with plastics.’ Positive TV commercials—like the one from American Family Insurance featuring JJ Watt showing a river clean up—teach that it’s not a plastics problem but a people problem. I’d like to see our industry go on the offensive and put a better face on plastics. Let’s produce our own commercial that shows people cleaning up and recycling plastics, not dumping them into the environment.”
—Steve Cunningham, General Manager, Injection Molding Division, Niigata Machine Techno USA Inc.
Recapture the full value of plastics
“As we begin a new decade, I imagine a world where we recapture the full value of plastic and advance a robust plastics circular economy. Through innovation and collaboration across the entire value chain, I hope for a world with zero plastic waste in our natural environment and oceans. This must be our collective focus as we work together to shape a world that is better tomorrow than it is today.”
—John Thayer, Senior Vice President, Polyethylene, Nova Chemicals
We need skilled techs
“Two things are on my wishlist. Highly skilled techs—as automation grows, headcount decreases, placing a higher value on those who remain. And more flexible robots—they are slowing down the cycles and need to be built with faster end-of-arm multifunction tooling."
—Bill Tobin, Plastics Consultant at WJT Associates and PlasticsToday contributor
The only way we win is by working together
“We have all seen the same question arise everywhere, from industry panel discussions to business news columns. Which is the more promising approach to eliminating the world’s plastic waste problem: Advancements in recycling infrastructure or biopolymer development? Our team’s wish at Danimer Scientific is that every industry involved in the lifecycle of plastic products will realize that there is a third option to solving this question, and that answer is collaboration. The only way we win is by working together, so we hope to see more openness between the recycling, packaging and bioplastics industries to find cooperative approaches to holistically reducing the environmental impacts of plastic waste.”
—Scott Tuten, Chief Marketing Officer, Danimer Scientific
A truce in the war against plastics
“In 2020, the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) would like to see a truce in the war against plastics and instead see an improvement in solid waste management and recycling infrastructure. Plastics, particularly flexible packaging, provide environmental and societal benefits that far outweigh the current lack of an end-of-life management system for such. In 2020, we should concentrate on real solutions to the U.S. recovery and recycling infrastructure rather than banning valuable and necessary packaging. Bans and taxes will not solve the 'plastics problem.'”
—Alison Keane, President and CEO, Flexible Packaging Association
My wish is for beauty
“My wish for 2020 is for beauty. That each and every day, wherever I may go, I am touched by the magic of life. Pure air with each breath. A clean and clear path with each step I take. Rivers running clear, the water sparkling and bright, as if I was the first one there. I wish this not just for me, or my children, but for all.”
Eric Larson, Mechanical Engineer, Owner of Art of Mass Production and PlasticsToday columnist
Close the loop
“If the climate at October’s K Show in Düsseldorf was any indication, I am optimistic that we are on the cusp of a fundamental paradigm shift in the ways that plastic is perceived, used and re-used throughout our society. Participants up and down the value chain and across industries are recognizing plastic’s unique potential and proactively pursuing creative solutions to enhance profitability, durability and sustainability in their products simultaneously. In 2020, I hope to see further engagement with consumers to close the loop and realize fully circular systems for plastics.”
—Tim Stedman, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Development, Trinseo
Uncertainty in the market
“Plastic is being targeted in a lot of ways right now, and it’s resulting in a lot of uncertainty in the market. I wish we could change that, but there’s too much involved. Instead, we’re going to stay positive and focus on better meeting our customers’ needs. We’re also gearing up for the future because business is going to come back, and our customers are going to need the latest and greatest if they want to stay competitive.”
—Dale Bartholomew, National Technical Manager, Japan Steel Works America Inc.