In this month’s edition of his regular column, Philip Law, Director-General of the British Plastics Federation (BPF), marvels at the UK’s sporting success and why Team GB’s medals tally matters to the plastics industry more than you might imagine.
Like most BP&R readers, I spent much of the last few weeks watching the box and marvelling at the accomplishments of our sports men and women as they hauled in the magnificent total of 68 medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Many congratulations to them! In these uncertain times, when economic considerations are to the fore, some people may wonder, "so what"? Is this something British politicians can take to Brussels and throw on the negotiating table, saying “we have a tremendous sporting spirit in this country so you'd better give us a great deal?”
Well, not exactly, but the Olympic success does have quite a strong commercial impact, not least on the plastics industry. British sporting success could be taken to illustrate a fierce competitive spirit and a national determination to win across the board – not just in sport. It can certainly be reflected in our business temperament. It adds to our image of an industry that is determined to be more efficient in its manufacturing than anyone else, one which offers unique innovative products that others cannot and one which goes that extra mile in providing better service than the competition. That is something that our negotiating counterparties should take heed of in Brussels.
A significant rowing fraternity
The Plastics Industry itself was incredibly well represented in the Olympics by an extraordinary range of equipment made from plastics. I'm certainly aware, for instance, in our UK plastics industry we have a significant rowing fraternity. This includes not only myself (John O'Gaunt RC) our BPF Vice-President, Bruce Margetts of Bericap (Lincoln RC), Peter Donnelly, formerly Akcros (Agecroft RC) and former BPF President, David Williams (Northwich RC). I'm sure all will tell you how the sport of rowing has changed remarkably thanks to the introduction of carbon fibre reinforced plastics material.
I started my rowing career in 1968 training in heavy, cumbersome, clinker-built wooden boats that were as much a struggle to put into the water as they were to row. Now, the sport is dominated by sleek, narrow lightweight boats -carbocraft - which cut through the water with almost effortless ease, significantly cutting record times. The oars ("blades" to the cognoscenti) are also now made from lightweight carbon fibre reinforced materials. Rowing today is almost a technological experience compared with the ungainly heavings of the past.
The same is true of other sports. The footballs used are a complex combination of polymeric materials, sports shoes designed to win a few more vital seconds on the track are based on plastics, and rackets have a much lighter weight due to carbon fibre reinforced plastics.
It's reasonable to expect that the sports in which the UK excelled in recent weeks will prompt a surge of interest in the population. In turn, this could stimulate a higher demand for those products – hopefully with British brand names – not just in the UK, but also overseas. Sporting success certainly does matter to the plastics industry.
No cosmetic issue
In a different vein, but still linked to water, the end of August saw the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee publish its report on the use of plastics microbeads in cosmetics.
This rightly highlighted the key elements necessary to tackle the potential effects of microplastics in the environment, such as prevention in the first place and international collaboration. Once it had been highlighted that water treatment plants were unable to filter out microbeads, the BPF, alongside other leading associations, started to encourage companies to move away from their use in cosmetic products. We've been pleased to see a large number of cosmetics manufacturers committing to phase out microbeads completely. We believe that the focus should now be placed on addressing litter behaviour and improving the current waste management infrastructure to make sure all used plastics are efficiently collected for recovery.
Once again, we emphasise that plastics in the seas is an issue that will not go away. The area that we can influence is preventing pellet loss from plants. Companies are exhorted to sign up to the principles of Operation Clean Sweep. For details of this please refer to the BPF website.