K2019 – An industry in transition, and embracing it

For those not affiliated with this event, K2019 is the world’s number one trade fair for plastics and rubber and is only held once every three years in Dusseldorf. Understandably given the current media scrutiny around plastics in the last 12 months this event was widely anticipated, and it did not fail to deliver with over 3,000 exhibitors from 60+ nations and 224,000 visitors over eight days. Busy and vibrant is certainly an understatement, as my Fitbit will testify to!

The event demonstrated that plastics continue to be an innovative, indispensable material, with the necessity of having operational circular economies along the complete value chain. The positive mood prevailing at K2019 was echoed by the exhibitors with real focus on three areas; product range expansion, increased efficiency and in particular circular economy, i.e. the sustainability of their products and the sustainability of their production.

The strong impression is that the industry understands its responsibilities although there is a feeling that there is a significant challenge in educating the local communities to embrace circular economy and recognise the impact of individual behaviours. For example, there is no point having a biodegradable, compostable plastic cup which is then put into a landfill.

We were also able to discuss talent issues with a number of senior executives within the industry, with several common themes emerging:
• Circular economy and sustainability is not just “greenwashing” by the major chemicals and petrochemicals firms, it is really happening. Full circularity will require a behavioural change in society alongside a combination of mechanical and chemical recycling.
• As with much of the process industries, succession planning is key at senior manager and executive level within commercial and operational structures where there is a common consensus that there are generational gaps that could inhibit innovation and progress.
• Chemicals and plastics firms are acting on the need for customer focussed, strategic sales leaders who can deliver value. They understand the importance of building commercial teams who understand the pressures across the value chain and can shape long term sustainable solutions.

In summary, although the plastics industry is facing a number of internal and external challenges there is an overwhelming air of positivity and optimism. It will be fascinating to see what the next three years have in store and how progressive the concept of circularity is by K2022.


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