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Have trade shows had their day?

Last month (May) saw the UK’s biggest packaging and processing trade exhibition – Total Processing & Packaging 2007 – take place in Birmingham. While Reed Exhibitions said it might not have final visitor figures available for around a month, in the week or so immediately following the show the company understandably cited “visitor quality” as its big selling point, while claiming that the four-day exhibition was “characterised by business opportunities, lively debate and creativity”. The general consensus from a number of exhibitors, however, appeared to be that footfall was, at times, “disappointingly low”.

This is not to dismiss a show still widely regarded as the UK’s premium packaging trade event. However, looking not just at Total but equally at many other modern-day trade exhibitions, with the Internet’s ability to provide comprehensive information at the click of a mouse, our growing reliance on electronic communications, and today’s frenetic business schedule, one must question whether the halcyon days of mammoth attendances at even large exhibitions may now be in the past?

On an altogether different front, last month saw the UK government publish its 2007 Waste Strategy, an extensive, interesting document but one which, Packaging Federation ceo Dick Searle firmly believes yet again lays disproportionate blame on the packaging sector as a major contributor to landfill and waste. One of its “proposals”, in particular – the suggestion that businesses should “help consumers, for example, with less packaging”, not only seems extremely facile, but surely, with numerous examples of converters and material producers collaborating to reduce “excess” packaging, superfluous, suggesting a worrying lack of government recognition of the sector’s substantial efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.

What should be interesting will be the impact the suggested DEFRA-led Waste Board and the new “products and materials unit”, both proposed in this lengthy document, play in overall UK waste strategy and how effectively these new bodies can work with retailers, brand owners and the packaging sector to bring tangible “green” benefits to all.

Jonathan Baillie