"We are plastic" – an initiative for the conscious use of resources
"We are plastic" – an initiative for the conscious use of resources
Interview with Ingemar Bühler, Managing Director, PlasticsEurope Deutschland e.V.
Exclusively for K-MAG
"There is a lot of talk about the plastics industry, but too little talk with it," says the website of the German "Wir sind Kunststoff" ("We are plastic") initiative, which was launched in mid-May 2021. It sees itself as a dialog platform for the industry on socially relevant aspects relating to plastics. To this end, seven trade associations and an umbrella organization pool their expertise and approach the public together as the faces of the industry.
Ingemar Bühler, Managing Director, PlasticsEurope Deutschland e.V.. Copyright: Plastics Europe Deutschland
In an interview with K-MAG, Ingemar Bühler talks about the need for such an initiative, the current challenges facing the plastics industry, and how they can be overcome.
Mr. Bühler, what are the goals of the "We are Plastic" initiative?
Ingemar Bühler: Plastics are currently very much in the spotlight, both in politics and in the media. The latter in particular often view our material very critically. And many people are concerned about plastics in the environment. We take this very seriously and are currently developing strong solutions to stop plastic waste entering rivers and oceans, for example. We want to present these solutions to the outside world with a common voice – to stakeholders who have so far tended to view us critically, as well as to interested members of the public. At the same time, we want to highlight the relevance of plastics for our modern lives and the transformation of our industry toward greater sustainability. And we can do this most credibly and with the best information if we work together as an industry.
Who is involved? To what extent does the initiative benefit from these sponsors?
Bühler: The plastics associations of producers, processors and machine builders are involved. Namely, these are: the plastics processing industry with GKV, AVK, FSK, GKV/TecPart, IK and pro-K, the plastics producers represented by Plastics Europe Deutschland and the plastics machinery manufacturers in the VDMA. Incidentally, our alliance represents more than 3,500 companies with almost 500,000 employees and annual sales of over 100 billion euros. These are strong figures that show that together we can achieve a lot.
What are the current main concerns of the plastics industry? What is moving the industry at the moment?
Bühler: Our industry is currently undergoing its greatest transformation to date. We have fully committed ourselves to a new guiding principle: the circular economy with plastics. We want to systematically drive this forward and even make it possible in the first place. Because we must not forget: This is a fundamental paradigm shift. The old paradigm of consuming products is being replaced by a new, more sustainable and more efficient paradigm: We no longer consume products. We use resources and run them in circles. To do this, we design products made of plastic so that they can be recycled after use. And we rely on an innovative recycling system and plants that can recycle more and in much higher quality than before. But a true circular economy requires thinking about sustainable business holistically. This means that we are also transforming the production of our materials themselves, in other words, decoupling them from the consumption of fossil resources in the long term. That is why we are developing alternatives to the exploitation of fossil raw materials and are relying on biomass, corn and agricultural waste, for example, or even using CO2 from the air to produce plastics.
Where do you currently see a need for action when it comes to plastics?
Bühler: In order for us to be able to continue to rely on the industry's strong innovative power, we naturally also need the tailwind from politics and society. Otherwise, in times of radically shortened innovation cycles, we will miss the boat – and will not be able to regain it. In my opinion, three aspects are particularly important: First, we need affordable energy. After all, progress toward a modern circular economy and sustainable production processes is not only cost-intensive, but also energy-intensive. They depend on our industry being provided with the necessary amount of affordable and sustainable energy. Second, we need a new openness to innovation and technology in this country, a political and social climate that welcomes and promotes innovation. And third, the construction of highly innovative facilities for the circular economy stands and falls with fast and legally secure approval procedures. It cannot and must not be the case that the procedures in this country take several times as long as in the USA or other parts of the world. Incidentally, the future coalition partners have recognized this and mentioned it in three places in their exploratory paper. Now, of course, action must follow. This will only happen if politicians understand that a climate-neutral society depends on high-performance plastics.
Copyright: Plastics Europe Deutschland
Next year, the K trade fair will be 70 years old. Since then, the plastics industry has evolved significantly. What do you think will happen in the K industry in the next 70 years?
Bühler: 70 years is a huge time span in times of exponential developments. What is clear is that we want to build a circular economy with plastics and become climate-neutral. We will also see how much the economy of the future will no longer be characterized by the ownership but by the use of resources. This will of course also have an impact on our business models and is absolutely in line with the circular economy, which always considers the next paths of a resource. My guess is also that value plastics will become even more important in the future. We can already see today how strongly the relevance of plastics is increasing in the interiors of automobiles. Many industries are relying on our lightweight and excellently moldable material. In times of products that are increasingly tailored to the individual preferences of the user, which should also be as climate-friendly as possible, plastics will very often be the material of choice.
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