Plastics industry encouraged to create a sustainable future with innovative thinking

Alec Erwin was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Plastics SA ConferenceThe South African plastics industry and government have the power to invent the future of sustainable plastics if they harness imagination and creativity with the latest scientific and international developments.

This was the underlying message of the six keynote speakers who addressed delegates at the Plastics SA Conference, held on 16 March 2016, as part of Propak Africa 2016.

The theme of this second industry-specific conference, hosted by Plastics SA, was ‘The Triple Bottom Line and the Plastics Industry: People, Planet, Profit.’ The event was sponsored in part by POLYCO and the Polystyrene Packaging Council.

Local and international speakers were invited to present their views on what the future holds for the South African plastics industry and the impact it has on the planet, its workforce and profits.

‘Three years ago, we set ourselves the aspirational vision of achieving zero plastics to landfill by 2030,’ Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom said in his welcome address. ‘We are working tirelessly to achieve this objective over the next 14 years, through separation at source initiatives; growing imports and exports to Africa; developing the levels of new product innovation and skills development; growing industry support through public-private partnerships; and working with government.’

Messages from the conference speakers

Keynote speaker and the first chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission, Dame Anne Glover, stressed the need for collaboration in science. ‘There are many skills and much expertise in the plastics industry. These assets have to be used to ensure a sustainable business, which has as its primary concern the society in which it works, where its products are used and the planet – whose resources are vital for the industry. Innovation and creativity are key to addressing these challenges. This approach guides industry to sustainable production, which will also deliver profitability,’ Dame Glover said.

The previous Minister of Trade and Industry, Alec Erwin, was the day’s second keynote speaker and provided practical advice to local plastics businesses on how to increase trading in Africa.

‘Look at the facts, not at what politicians are telling you. We are living on a continent that is the fastest growing region in the world and there are high levels of industrial activity taking place. There are many opportunities waiting for you in infrastructure, industry and agriculture. You are, however,  going to need a clear plan of action and a well thought-out strategy if you are going to have a competitive advantage over India, Russia, China, Brazil and other rapidly industrialising nations making inroads into the continent,’ he warned.

Encouraging delegates to think outside the box, environmental entrepreneur and sustainability expert Jason Drew said that industries are now finding themselves in the midst of the sustainability revolution. ‘It is no longer business as usual. The world is looking for products that are repairable, durable and upgradable to fulfil its needs.’

Astrapak HR director Mefane Makhutla focused on the people aspect of the plastics industry. ‘The industry is becoming highly technological and automated, with specialised skill requirements unique to the industry. For this reason, we have to nurture the talent we have. The technological advancements we have will be useless without developing the human component.’

Meluleki Nzimande, a partner at Webber Wentzel Attorneys specialising in international trade law, spoke about the recent phasing out of import tariffs for polymers and how this is contributing to more competitive input prices.

Trends analyst and media personality Dion Chang ended the day on a high note with his presentation on how the business of disruption, through digitisation, social media, recession and individualism, is leading to the collapse of traditional business value chains.

Delegates agreed that the conference was relevant, insightful and interesting. Comments included:

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