The main theme running throughout the two-day Plastics Caps&Closures conference, which was organised this year for the 15th time by PNE publisher Crain Communications November 15-16 in Amsterdam, was the circular economy - and how plastics caps and closures fit into this trend. Keynote speaker Hans van Bochove, VP public affairs Europe, Coca-Cola and, importantly, chairman of Europen, the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment presenting the opinion of the packaging supply chain in Europe on topics related to packaging and the environment, traced the development from customer engagement to government legislation.
He noted that the latest European proposals differ fundamentally from previous regulations: “For the first time, certain products are banned,” he said. “And they are demanding 90% collection of beverage containers by 2025 – and tethered caps. The former will require serious interventions, the latter an essential design requirement that we consider a disproportionate measure.”
In addition, the European Council wants to drop the Internal Market Requirement. “It is still only a proposal,” Bochove emphasised, adding that Europen, as an organisation committed to working with the European authorities on EU legislation that is clear, proportionate and effective and that safeguards the Internal Market, is still in discussion about the proposed new rules.
Alex Hoffer: "We have to be that voice of change."
The fact remains, however, that action is urgently needed.
“Our reputation has taken a hit”, said Alex Hoffer, vice president of sales and operations, Hoffer Plastics Corp. “Environmentalists need to know that we care.” For him, this means developing cost-effective, sustainable solutions to “help our customers win”, like tethered caps on pouches or monolayer pouches.
Speakers from INEOS and StackTeck talked about technological innovations – a new bimodal resin for lightweighting, servo drive technology in mould closing – aimed at a more efficient use of resources; Thomas Bechtel of Mold-Masters discussed how advanced hot runner technology could increase output while maintaining part quality, while Laurent Saleur of Chem-Trend pointed out the advantages of using purging compounds.
Michael Krueger, of Corvaglia Holding, specialised in beverage closure for PET bottles, discussed why gate quality, although seemingly mundane, is an issue. “Small steps, perfectly done, take us forward,” he said.
During the conference, there was also attention for issues such as child-resistant packaging and design for the elderly: Ken Sagawa, among other things chairman of ISO WG9 Accessible Design for Packaging, talked about the steps taken in Japan, a country where some 20% of the population falls into the category of elderly, in this area. His workgroup is working on developing a set of accessible design standards for packaging that elderly people are able to open ‘comfortably’.
Sustainability, microplastics, recycling and the reuse of packaging – all aimed at promoting the circular economy – formed the core of the presentations from Paul Earnshaw, of Tesco, Silvia Freni Sterrantino of the EuPC, Mathieu Lecomte, of LyondellBasell, David Rose of David Rose Packaging Solutions and Filip Vangeel, of Valipac.
Intellectual property specialist Jason Lessard, a partner at HGF, returned to the issues of the tethered caps to illustrate his point.
“Closures have been put on centre stage for reducing marine litter and tethers are seen as the solutions. Producers must find solutions for these that improve known approaches,” he urged, and then protect these in one way or the other. “Get ahead of the curve. You can secure a competitive advantage, but if you get left behind, you could find yourself blocked, and even having to pay damages.
He added: “Act now. Think about how to use the situation to your own advantage.”
The conference was chaired through the entire two days by an effervescent Michael Nieuwesteeg, managing director of the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre, whose creative and associative thinking approach linked the presentations seamlessly together. And as a parting shot he left both presenters and attendees with an ambitious task: “This year we talked in depth and from all angles about the sustainability of plastics caps & closures. Let’s make sure that in ten years’ time, at the 25thanniversary of this conference – that issue will be solved and it will not be a central theme, but a taken-for-granted given. Agreed?”