Plastic may not be the most beloved of materials to the more environmentally minded, but Plasti 2012, a Milan, Italy-based show held last week, aimed to mold a different opinion of the material in people's minds.
"Plastic is a huge and innovating world," said Mario Maggiani, director at Assocomaplast, the association of Italian plastics and rubber machinery producers. Those innovations include processes like injection molding, extrusion of film, blow molding, and rotational molding, though the real steps forward are arguably being taken in material composition.
"Biomaterials are becoming big in the world of plastic," said Maggiani, noting that this had come as a result of a "war against plastic," not just in Italy, but across the globe.
With more than 3,500 machines dedicated to plastic production on display at the event, Maggiani and Plasti 2012's exhibitors are eager to prove that plastic can be good if made correctly. Indeed, with new laws in Italy mandating the production of biodegradable plastic for shopping bags, the industry knows it is expected to clean up its act but is still shifting blame using the good old gun excuse.
"It's not plastic that's polluting the world... it's the people throwing plastic around, these people are polluting the world," said Maggiani, adding that if only plastic was managed appropriately, it wouldn't pollute, and could even be recycled or used to create energy. Burning one kilo of plastic was the approximate equivalent of one kilo of oil, "so you can burn it and recover energy," he said, though failing to address the ecological implications of the process.
Environmental issues aside, Maggiani also believes Italians have the capabilities to do "unbelievable things" with plastic, based around the Italians' "special flare" for design and zeal for fashion and furniture.
Also, as the exchange rate between the US and Europe stabilizes somewhat, Maggiani said trade to North America has also picked up significantly, though Germany, France, and China remained the biggest markets for Italian plastic machinery exports. With exports making up more than 90 percent of Italy's plastic machinery sales, Maggiani admits that the 20 percent increase last year has been a lifeline for the industry. "We survive thanks to exports," he said.
In total, the output of machines, plants, moulds, and ancillary equipment came to four billion Euros in 2011, which though not quite at a pre-2007 crisis level, is slowly clawing its way back up. "Italian manufacturers complain about sales trends and fear of the future, but if we look at the figures, the situation is not so gloomy, at least for companies with international market outlets," Maggiani said.
There is a shared responsibility between manufacturers and consumers to produce product that will is good quality and not damaging to the environment. If a manufacturer can make a product with less of a carbon footprint, they should do it. On the other side, a consumer does have a responsibility of placing a plastic bottle in the correct container for recycling.
@Tim. Couldn't have said it any better. It sickens me that in today's day and age, people think nothing of leaving plastic bottles around or hucking their fast-food trash out the window and leaving it roadside. I absolutely agree that the vendors have a responsibility to push for more sustainable materials and manufacturing processes. But no matter how much they innovate in this area, if people don't do what's right, all that material innovation is for naught.
"Do what's Right"; So how do you encourage responsibility ? How about a deposit (tax) on plastic bottles to encourage recycling ? What about a city having a recycling program ? Actually you can't have a deposit system because that is a Government Regulation interfering with the Free Market System. And Recycling Programs are bad because the is a wasteful Government Program. When raw materials are cheaper than recycling, recycling doesn't happen (without Government intervention / encouragement). And any school program that educates (indoctrinates) students about recycling is bad. There is a significant segment of the American population that believes that the Earth was given to Man by God to use / consume. And that only God, not Man nor Man's activities, can harm or destroy the Earth.
About once a week my wife and I have lunch at a fast-food "restaurant" that serves a great salad in a plastic container. The restaurant has no separate recycling bins for this type of plastic or for cup lids, straws, etc. What's the alternative, take the plastic home and recycle it? Some people do that. I'd like to see recycle bins available at places that sell consumables in recyclable packages. We do have curb-side pick up of paper, plastics, metals, etc. Sadly we do not have recycling (yet) for grass clippings and other materials that could go into a composting facility.
It's true that consumer pressure is what's driven the plastics industry to find more ecologically friendly, sustainable alternative materials, such as bioplastics and recycled plastics, as well as processes for turning plastics into fuels, as DN has covered: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=240409 http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=239662 http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=239645 My upcoming May feature article will detail creating fuels from recycled plastics.
Sounds like plastic is getting cleaner. A lot of the legacy materials and systems are fighting to keep up with the new materials and systems. It's good to see. We're seeing stronger, lighter steel. Internal combustion engines that get great gas mileage, and plastic that breaks down quickly. Good developments.
A lot of things that the family used to teach the children must now be taught in school because of the breakdown of the family structure. There should be graded courses to teach this pollution prevention stuff - it is every bit as important as math, reading etc.
Pollution stems from ignorance - once anyone truly understands - they are a convert, I don't care who it is.
I have heard the siren call of the I-Hate-Plastic crowd for a while. They have a foothold in San Francisco and some other places. But I have often wondered why we haven't changed plastic for a modern world?" They changed packaging peanuts to a corn-based substance. Why not plastic bags, bottles, etc.?
It looks like this movement IS alive, at least in Italy. I'm no fan of environmental Nazis, but I do think common sense can prevail. Why not make the common items biodegradable, or at least re-convertible to energy? It there a lack of engineering knowledge, affordable methods (back to an engineering problem), or is the change too expensive to make in this disaster of an economy?
Perhaps, like in most cases, where there is a problem, there is an opportunity. Engineers search for opportunities. That's how we get things done!
The problem gets even worse when it comes to so-called "bio-plastics" because then people think it's ok to just throw plastic wherever they please. Not all bio-plastics are fully bio-degradable. It's an education problem. People have to learn to not be gross.