Bart ten Brink is the new president of EuroPUR with new ideas of how the organisation should be run and how it should interact with the wider world. This is his view from the top.
Bart ten Brink wants to bring the foam family together and spread the word.
I have a number of objectives that I want to see the association achieve during my tenure which runs until the celebration of EuroPUR’s 50th anniversary in June 2016.
The first of these is increasing the visibility of flexible polyurethane foam in the eyes of society, and regulators.
Raising the industry’s profile will have benefits in terms of the second area, which is handling regulatory pressures such as chemical legislation (REACH). My third focus is the circular economy, or how to close the loop between polyurethane foam production and sensible end-of-life options for foam containing products.
Tell the world about PU flex foam
Polyurethane is one of the hidden materials that is used in our daily lives. It gives us the comfort that we need. When we make it more visible, we help stakeholders understand the benefits it brings to society and what we do to produce it safely.
The most important thing is to make our product more visible to the outer world. We have not done that in the past and there are many, many issues around us with many stakeholders. We need to make our industry visible to explain: who we are; what we do; and how many we employ and what are important issues for us. This will be mission number one.
Mission number two is to cope with the regulatory issues which pop up from time. Specifically, those issues around chemical legislation such as REACH, and the EU’s proposals to ban the landfilling of all plastics including polyurethane foam-containing products. The second point leads directly to the third issue, which is the circular economy, an area to which our industry needs to pay closer attention.
I want to manage these issues so that we move in the right direction and we serve our industry for the long term. If we don’t manage these issues properly and collectively as an industry, then we will all lose out ultimately, I believe.
However, the association is not a lobbying group. I don’t think lobby is quite the right word.
There should be open dialogue with the groups that takes decisions likely to impact our industry. It is our duty to provide decision-makers with accurate information on our industry, but also to listen to the concerns they may be having.
End-of-life of plastics components as one area where legislators and regulators need to understand that the picture contains polyurethane as well as easier-to-recycle thermoplastics:
One thing is clear, when EU regulators think about the circular economy they are often talking about plastics in general.
They think about plastic bottles, about other types of more visible plastic such as packaging plastics, but PU is also covered by their plans. We need an open dialogue, so people can understand all the consequences of their decisions.
End of life
It is not that the ban on landfill of plastics is bad legislation per se, it is an idea we can support, but the EU’s current standpoint on incineration as recycling method is rather negative. We need to show that polyurethane is a good material from which to recover energy. The calorific value is very high and the potential burn rate of polyurethane foam is that high, it produces fewer emissions than, for example, wood.
Incineration is vital part of the mix of end of life options for polyurethane products.
There is a market of approximately 50kT/year of re-bonded foam in Europe. There is a market of in trim foam of approximately 50kT/year sold outside Europe.
There is an average volume of 200kT/year of foam in mattresses which we think reach the end of their lives each year in the EU. That does not include upholstered furniture or other applications.
If there is no incineration, what are you going to do with the other hundreds of thousands of tonnes? The industry has been searching for an answer for a very long time, but for the moment we do have no outlets that allow for the absorption of the volumes.
All the chemical recycling approaches that have been tried have, up to now failed commercially. And several large multinationals have been involved in this. That doesn’t mean of course we shouldn’t pursue research into possible end of life solutions. It will be our job as an industry to seek to improve on that but it means energy recovery cannot be discarded as a mainstream solution for the years to come.
I have a clear view on how to approach REACH, we should see it as a legitimate need to explain the properties and safe handling of the materials we use. It is an opportunity to explain the steps we take to ensure our workers are not exposed to harmful substances. There is nothing wrong with that.
EuroPUR’s communications goal is to ensure that we have an open dialogue with different authorities in each Member State and also at the EU level about what is possible and what is not possible. It’s also important to provide the authorities the right information, facts and figures.
It is also important to keep issues separate and clear. For example, combined with REACH you see a lot of questions popping up about occupational health like asthma. We need to address those questions by collecting data and information from our industry to show that we handle chemicals safely. EuroPUR’s occupational asthma surveys show that out of 27,800 staff employed by respondents, we have only a few cases of occupational asthma.
Such studies help put things into perspective. So when local authorities say that REACH is important because of occupational health issues and, certain exposures could cause asthma, it is our duty as an association and as an industry to work ourselves into the figures and find out what is really true or not.
We also want to growing the size of the EuroPUR organisation and ensure that it is relevant to flexible polyurethane foam makers in Europe.
That’s one of the things we have to do, of course, we have changed EuroPUR’s rules and organisation to allow foam companies and suppliers to join the as direct members, rather than via compulsory membership of national associations.
There are a number of flexible foam manufacturers in Europe that are not members in EuroPUR at the moment. Considering the challenges our industry has to address, a representative trade association including an as large share of the industry as possible is a must. We are therefore putting a strong focus on bringing the foam family together inside the association, so that we can together work on the issues that matter to all of us.
We also have an excellent working relationship with ISOPA, the association representing isocyanate and polyols producers, and with PU Europe, the association of rigid foam producers.
We work together on issues such as worker protection or end of life of products containing PU. It is very important that beyond that, the whole polyurethane chain works together, because there are fewer and fewer local and regional issues, they all tend to very quickly become global.
This is why we also very regularly exchange information with our colleagues from the Polyurethane Foam Association in the US and maintain good contacts and exchange with European associations like EBIA or Plastic Europe.
Polyurethane foam is globally traded. Companies headquartered outside of the EU trying to sell to the EU or EU subsidiaries are influenced by EU legislation or need to understand how it works. This is where there could be opportunities for cooperation between regional or national associations. EuroPUR is willing to help set up new national associations in regions outside Europe where they do not exist and to help existing national associations which feel that they may benefit from EuroPURs almost 50 years’ of experience as a trade association.
About ten Brink
Bart J. ten Brink qualified with a degree in Logistics Engineering from Tilburg, Netherlands and in addition he took an executive program in International Management run by Stanford in Singapore. From 1991, he served in various management and senior management positions within the international foam manufacturing group Recticel NV, for the last ten years as head of two strategic business units, composite foams and acoustical products, with worldwide responsibility. From 1995 to 1998, he was as Technical Director and Industrial Manager responsible for the Nordflex Group Scandinavia (joint venture of Recticel. and Shell). Between 1992 and 1995, he served as Plant Manager of Recticel Industry Buren. After almost two decades in the foam business he moved to the Switzerland-based Conzzeta holding company Foam Partner as ceo.