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Environmental Concerns Will Take Center Stage at K 2022

K 2022 will focus heavily on themes of Circular Eeonomy and Climate Protection. .

“This K will be different,” announced Thorsten Kühmann, managing director of VDMA, in a video call last week with the global plastics trade press about the upcoming K 2022 trade fair. VDMA, the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, is the primary sponsor of the triennial K Show. K 2022 is scheduled for Oct. 19-26, 2022 in Düsseldorf, Germany.

What will be “different” about this K Show is that it is being organized amid intense sensitivity—especially in Europe—about public criticism of the plastics industry for its contribution to environmental pollution (e.g., ocean plastics) and climate change (because they’re made from fossil fuels).

If you have visited recent K Shows, or read about them in this magazine, you may recall that K 2016 was all about “smart factories, Industry 4.0, or, in the currently favored term, “digitalization.” Then K 2019 spotlighted the Circular Economy (recycling) first and digitalization second. Now, the announced themes for K 2022 will be, in this order:

 •  Circular Economy,

 •  Digitalization,

•  Climate Protection.

At the last K in 2019, the emphasis on Circular Economy took on a positive tone: “Yes, we can do this to recycle plastics or make them more recyclable, and that to reduce generation of plastics scrap and waste, and this to use less plastic material in lightweighted products.” Using less energy at every step of the manufacturing value chain was a related theme.

But this time around, I sense a greater urgency—defensiveness, perhaps—to prove to the general public that plastics are part of the solution, not just part of the problem.

According to an infographic presented by Kühmann, the goal is to present “Global Sustainability Goals as guiding principles for the K 2022.” A key element of that effort is to present the plastics industry as embodying “Responsibility for well-being and sustainable economic activity.”

One aspect of the latter theme is the familiar roles of plastics in preventing food waste through improved packaging, of enhancing medical care (notably during the COVID-19 pandemic), and enabling safe drinking-water systems in developing countries.

Under the heading of Climate Protection and CO2 reduction, plastics are key enablers of “lightweight mobility”—including electric vehicles, food preservation, and energy-saving building insulation.

Under the heading of Clean Environment, the plastics industry must show its commitment to waste treatment, recycling, and traceability of products from cradle to grave, all aimed toward a goal of eliminating any plastic waste in the environment.

Kühmann said VDMA itself is working on several projects to make this K “different.” One is a search for an existing, ongoing climate-protection project somewhere in the world that VDMA can support financially and technically and provide a “direct and media-effective link to the fair and the exhibitors.”

Another is a proposal to make available to exhibitors, on a voluntary basis, a “climate-neutral trade fair stand.” VDMA would use a “CO2 calculator” to calculate the CO2 footprint of an exhibitor’s booth, and the exhibitor could “pay an amount to compensate,” which would go toward the VDMA-supported climate project. Kind of like the “carbon offsets” that some companies are already purchasing.

In a less radical vein, VDMA is committed to an outdoor exhibit area called the K 2022 Circular Economy Forum, a collection of 10 structures to be set up in the open area bounded by Halls 10, 11, 16 and 17. Occupying 4644 m2 (almost 50,000 ft2) of exhibit area, the Forum has already booked 14 exhibitors in addition to VDMA, whose round building, or “dome,” will present a variety of recycling processes and recycled products (“Market of the Future”), as well as a stage for presentations and discussions.

Overall, what’s remarkable about the picture Kühmann painted is how outward looking (toward the general public) the next K Show will be, not just inward looking toward the plastics industry. And, given the skeptical nature of that external audience, the message to show exhibitors, and the industry at large, is, “It’s time to get serious.”


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