Plastic may not be the most beloved of materials to the more environmentally minded, but Plast 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.