Not so in Germany, where the returnable PET bottle is now 15 years old and a lusty teenager. The Einwegpfand, or single-use deposit, is enshrined in law, and with deposits of as much as €0,30 (around 35 US cents) per bottle or can, the thrifty German shoppers make sure they bring back their empties to get their money’s worth.
According to Germany’s Forum PET statistics, over 98% of all single-use PET bottles are now returned for recycling. So, the country’s powerful green movement should be dancing in the street? Well, no. The Einwegpfand is so popular that the bottom has dropped out of the market for re-usable PET bottles, the ones that environmentalists prefer. And to add confusion, single-use bottles must be returned to the store in multiple-use crates, and woe betide you if you can’t tell one type of plastic bottle from another, which most people can’t.
Over the water in Britain, where used liner is counted as part of packaging, the beleaguered coalition government has announced draconian measures to “make the producer pay for packaging recycling.” It plans to make the producers cover the full costs of recycling and collecting. Currently, the British taxpayer, through local authorities, funds 90% of the costs of recycling, and businesses chip in just 10%. The planned measures include a compulsory deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, German style, and a project to build a stronger UK recycling market.
As one of Britain’s leading newspapers remarked, “The government’s waste strategy embraces leading EU policies on the circular economy just as the UK prepares to quit the bloc.”
These measures are only in the planning stage, and we learn that “the rollout of such a system may not happen for another five years,” by which time the present UK government and all its works will probably belong to history.
A major check on the British government’s long-term planning is “Brexit,” the country’s exit from the European Union, which, barring an improbable change of heart, will happen on March 29 of this year.
Industries and households are stocking up on essential goods, and emergency parking lots are being designated on both sides of the Channel to deal with the tens of thousands of trucks waiting to be customs-cleared from March 30 onwards. The British government, in a move recently announced, has signed contracts worth $140 million with British, French and Danish shipping lines to provide extra vessels plying between “secondary” ports to relieve the congestion on Dover, the main crossing point. In the words of British politician Vince Cable, “What irony to see that this money is mainly going to continental shipping lines. This makes Britain the laughingstock of the international scene.”
But while politicians wrangle over Brexit, Britain’s label converters are, for the most part, remaining calm and collected. Their main concern is with labelstock. Only Avery Dennison and UPM Raflatac produce in the UK, which remains a net importer. Ian Kendall, of UK-based Reflex Labels, remains an optimist. He says his company is “Gearing up to make the most of Brexit” and is “well placed to mitigate raw material cost increases and maximize on the wealth of new global opportunities that will present themselves once the UK is outside of the EU.”
Another UK converter is Technoprint, which makes mainly pharmaceutical leaflets. They have taken the view that all they need to do is to hold an extra two months of raw material stock. Many UK label converters will be doing the same as the March 29 deadline draws nearer. This will have a short-term effect on the companies’ cash flow.
However, in most cases, they see no major long-term impact on their business. For Britain’s label end users, prices will go up but since in UK labels are mostly traded domestically, they won’t be able to change suppliers to get a better deal. As one label converter told your correspondent, “We are all in the same boat. Let’s hope it’s not the Titanic.”
Britain’s label equipment manufacturers are also showing their proverbial sangfroid. Tony Bell of AB Graphic reckoning on “a slight negative effect” on his company’s business, and for Andy Cook of FFEI, there will be “no significant effect at all.”
Over the water in continental Europe, most label equipment makers see a disruptive Brexit as hitting part of their market, and they are mainly concerned, along with all industrialists, about how to re-establish just-in-time deliveries of spare parts to and from a post-Brexit Britain.
Twenty-four of the best
Any salesman will tell you the hardest sale to make to a customer is the second one, because it means the customer needs to be pretty happy with the first transaction. So, when they keep coming back to order more flexo presses (and they don’t come cheap), you know you must be doing something right.
But this is the happy situation for press manufacturer MPS in the Netherlands. They have just sold Barthel Gruppe in Germany their 24th press! Barthel is a family-run group of six label converters with manufacturing plants in Germany and the Netherlands. The company employs over 300 people and has annual sales of $80 million. Commenting on the latest press installation, Mischa Barthel, Barthel Gruppe’s CEO says, “From years of partnering with MPS, we can confidently rely on their press technology, robustness and service when we need it. Our MPS presses consistently deliver the same stable results – regardless of the operator that runs them.”
The MPS group, under its new CEO Atze Bosma, is reaching out to all the world’s major label markets, with recent seminars in Moscow, Delhi, the Netherlands, and at its US base in Green Bay, WI.
How to live with inflation
When inflation in Russia went through the roof in the late 1990s, prices in the shops stayed remarkably stable. And how did the government achieve this? Quite simply by ordering that all prices should be shown in “Universal Units,” which just happened to be the same value as US dollars. Shoppers had to pay in rubles, but those lucky enough to have a stash of dollars could dive into any exchange office and buy just enough devaluating rubles to pay for that day’s purchases.
Russia’s inflation never went much above a few percent per day, a mere bagatelle compared with Venezuela, where they’ve stopped counting and anyway there’s nothing much in the shops to buy. All this of course brings us in a roundabout way to Turkey, where inflation in 2018 was “only” 20-25% and where much of the labelstock, inks and other raw materials are imported.
In conversation with your correspondent, Eren Kul of Bahar Etiket admitted that his country’s economy was going through a rough patch. Like many Turkish companies, Bahar Etiket now quotes prices to its customers in euros, with payment in Turkish lira converted at the going rate on the day of payment. It’s clumsy, but it protects both buyer and seller. The local Turkish label market is no longer growing at the rate it knew in 2010-2016, but Bahar Etiket is pushing into export markets, mainly in the Middle East and the Balkan countries, and export sales now account for 20% of its sales.
Are trade shows evolving?
The All4Pack packaging show in Paris in November 2018 was the amalgamated and boiled-down version of three shows. Second only to Labelexpo Europe, it is the meeting point of the great and good of Europe’s label world. The organizers reported a total of 79,000 visitors, exhibitors and conference delegates, with roughly one-third of them from outside France. This compares with 88,000 for the previous show in 2016.
Apart from Xeikon and HP Indigo, few label press manufacturers exhibited but more than 20 label converters were present, including market leaders Stratus and Reynders, and a rather larger number of manufacturers of labeling systems.
Despite the buzz, the statistics indicate that this show is running out of steam, and the question is – why? The next Interpack, the big European packaging show, will not be until May 2020, so it can scarcely be a competitor. The Fachpack show in Nuremberg in September 2018 certainly accounted for some of the “missing” exhibitors at All4Pack. But the malaise could be deeper: there is a definite tendency in Europe toward more specialized shows – Labelexpo Europe is a prime example, Pharmapack is another. The big international trade shows have dominated the scene for a good many years. But then so did the dinosaurs.
Stakhanovisme – non, merci!
Last November, Europeans were mystified by advertisements for “Black Friday.” Some thought it was a reference to Robinson Crusoe and most had to have it explained to them that this is the American holiday when everyone rushes out to buy gifts for their loved ones. Nobody has yet been able to explain to your correspondent what is black about it, but it throws light on how much time hapless Americans spend working.
In a typical year, the average American works 100 hours more than a Briton, 300 more than a French employee and a whopping 400 more hours than a German.
What amazes your correspondent is that our transatlantic cousins only work 100 more hours a year than we do in France. Just to make your mouth water, five week’s holiday in France is the legal minimum, with extra days for seniority, and of course if there’s a public holiday during your paid leave, you can add it on.
Last May, the French enjoyed no less than three public holidays (Mayday, VE Day and Ascension, in case you’re interested or just jealous). And most employees here work a 35-hour week, to boot. Not that spending long hours at work makes for higher productivity. No lesser authority than C. Northcote Parkinson sagely observed that for many people, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This is perhaps why so many journalists have to rush to meet their deadlines.