Patrick Thomas, President of PlasticsEurope and CEO of Bayer MaterialScience, gave the opening address at Polytalk 2014
The President of a leading trade association has said the European plastics industry is a “strategic pillar” of the manufacturing sector that must be protected with a sustainable growth plan for the future.
Speaking at PolyTalk 2014, a two-day conference organised by PlasticsEurope in Brussels on 4-5 November, Patrick Thomas said that the association was “determined” to invest in Europe’s future by working with policy makers and other key stakeholders to shape a sustainable growth roadmap for the European plastics industry.
“We need a long term strategy for Europe’s re-industrialisation that encompasses the plastics sector as a key strategic partner driving innovation and securing transition towards a resource efficient and low carbon economy,” said Thomas.
The sustainable future of the industry was one of many themes discussed under the heading “European Industrial Renaissance…Let’s make it happen”, at the PolyTalk summit, which gathered more than 300 representatives from the worlds of industry, politics, science, academia and media and kicked-off with thought provoking visions of the future by renowned economist, Jeremy Rifkin, and leading academic, James Woudhuysen.
Speakers over the course of the two-days addressed how to reconcile competiveness and sustainability policy goals in Europe, as well as what can be done to reduce the high-energy costs crippling European industry. There were also discussions on the concrete steps needed in the short-term to make the long-term vision of a competitive and resource efficient Europe a reality, as well as the potential of the plastics sector to contribute to sustainable growth in an increasingly difficult economic environment.
Karl Falkenberg, Director General of Environment at the European Commission acknowledged that Europe is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regards to access to resources. He argued that: “we have to make our weakness our strength. The only way to maintain a competitive industry in Europe is if we can produce goods and services in a more energy and resource efficient manner and think in terms of the circular economy.”
While there was general agreement on the objectives of the circular economy and a vision of a low carbon economy in the future, a number of speakers were concerned that they should not distract attention from the need for urgent measures to ensure the survival of European industry in the short-term. A recurring theme was that Europe cannot achieve its climate and environment goals without the effective support of a competitive manufacturing sector.
According to Ineos CEO, Jim Ratcliffe, “We need to have a measured approach. We cannot sacrifice our industries while pursuing other goals. Europe has to develop competitive energy sources because the ramifications not doing so are huge. There are literally millions of jobs at stake.”
Related topics under discussion at PolyTalk 2014 included: the prospects for shale gas exploitation in Europe; challenges and opportunities for plastics recycling; the potential benefits of regulatory convergence in a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and; helping universities equip graduates with the skills needed by business.
The conference also provided a snapshot of some of the most exciting innovations being developed by the plastics industry in Europe today – from high performance sports equipment made in the Alps to cutting edge technology capturing CO2 and re-using it as a raw material for flexible polyurethane.
Many of the issues raised throughout the two days were captured in a Manifesto for the Competitiveness of the European Plastics Industry launched at the start of the conference as a joint initiative of PlasticsEurope and the European Plastics Convertors (EuPC).