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K turns 70: how the plastics fair became the world’s No. 1 trade fair with environmental responsibility

Double anniversary: in 2022 we celebrate 70 years of K and 75 years of Messe Düsseldorf. This means the world’s most relevant plastics and rubber trade fair has played a role in jointly shaping our homebase Düsseldorf and the trade fair business in general almost since our company was established. To mark its round-number birthday we will delve with you into the exciting story of K – the trade fair that welcomed around 176,000 visitors to North Rhine-Westphalia’s capital in late October.

This year sees us celebrate not one but two anniversaries at Messe Düsseldorf. While Messe Düsseldorf already turns 75, the world’s leading trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry – K, can look back on 70 successful trade fair years. For K – just like for the entire plastics industry – this period was marked by change: while in 1952 it was still a general-interest fair presenting rain capes and plastic tiles, the exhibiting companies quickly specialised in the development of high-tech plastics for medicine or aerospace. In 1963 this development led to its transformation into a special-interest trade fair with international appeal, where the first plastic body for passenger cars mass-produced in Germany could be admired, to name but one exhibit. Today, the most important topic of the century is in focus, sustainability – put into practice by amongst others the K topics Circular Economy and Climate Protection.

Numerous fairs experienced this trend – moving away from general-interest exhibitions towards special-interest trade fairs. In Düsseldorf this development started shortly after Messe Düsseldorf was founded – back then still called ‘Nordwestdeutsche Ausstellungsgesellschaft mbH’ (NOWEA – North-West German Exhibitions Ltd) – on 7 January 1947!

75 years of Messe Düsseldorf

But the exhibition industry has been at home in Düsseldorf for much longer than that. As early as 1811 the capital of what is now the state of North Rhine-Westphalia already proved itself as a trade fair location with the 1st “Düsseldorfer Gewerbeausstellung” (trades exhibition) and 14 exhibitors in total. At the beginning of the 20th century events such as the 1902 Industry and Trades Exhibition or the 1926 ‘Große Ausstellung für Gesundheitspflege, soziale Fürsorge und Leibesübungen’ (Big Exhibition for Health Care, Social Welfare and Physical Exercise) enjoyed record attendance.

Messe Düsseldorf / C. Tillmann
Today, the around 40 trade fairs as well as partner and guest events in Messe Düsseldorf’s national portfolio – including the leading global trade fairs drupa, interpack, MEDICA, COMPAMED, REHACARE, CARAVAN SALON, tube and wire – bring between 1 and 1.5 million guests to the Rhine. And this is not only a huge success for us as organisers but it also benefits local business; after all, trade fairs and congresses in Düsseldorf generate turnover of Euro 1.66 billion.

“Messe Düsseldorf has provided presentation and networking platforms for 75 years enabling successful business. We get the feedback time and again: the relevance of trade fairs continues unabated. This benefits not only the exhibiting companies of the individual sectors but also the economy at the location,” adds Wolfram N. Diener, President & CEO of Messe Düsseldorf GmbH.

70 years of K – the beginnings

The most recent example is K 2022, which attracted 3,037 exhibitors from 157 countries and celebrated its first edition from 11 to 19 October 1952. The timing of its inception could not have been better – as this was the time the economic miracle was gathering momentum and people were looking to the future with confidence. In the beginning, people still enjoyed modest comfort, but living standards and demands then rose.

And which material qualified as an allrounder for all of these areas of life at that time? Plastics. Polymer materials and products not only offer versatility – above all they come at comparatively favourable prices. At the first K in 1952 the versatility of plastic products was put in the spotlight for the first time. The 270 exhibiting companies from Germany welcomed a total of 165,000 visitors and showcased plastic products of use everywhere – and so both outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of interior design got their money’s worth.

How K became a trade fair

Over the following years the industry as a whole grew more specialized and K became established as the world’s No. 1 trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. While initially focusing on ongoing improvements to machinery performance and ever increasing output for more and more applications, in 2019 the industry unanimously took on new topics of the greatest relevance: solutions revolving around environmental compatibility, resource conservation and waste avoidance have been centre stage ever since.

K 2022: Plastics for climate protection

Remembering K 2019, Thomas Franken, Director K, Plastics & Rubber at Messe Düsseldorf, says: “The sector underlined the need for a functioning circular economy along the complete resource chain and already presented concrete solutions.”

Messe Düsseldorf / C. Tillmann
So the plastics industry is well aware of its role in climate protection and K, as its leading trade fair, heightens this awareness. “It can be clearly felt that all companies have embraced the need to take on social responsibility and think about plastics in a sustainable way from the beginning of the process chain. The variety of solutions, machinery and products for transformation towards a circular economy presented at K 2022 was incredible,” sums up Ulrich Reifenhäuser, Chairman of the Exhibitor Advisory Board of K 2022 in his verdict.

As you can see – plastics support climate-friendly advances and are constantly moving further in this direction. These developments and relevant innovations to protect the climate and the environment with plastics were on display both at K 2022 and the K Specials such as ‘Plastics Shape the Future’, ‘Circular Economy Forum’ or the ‘Science Campus’. Maybe you were also there and can also share your impressions with us!

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