WIST Executive Director Paul Fowler has been a driving force behind the institute's annual Focal Point conference since its inception five years ago, engaging top-notch, highly accomplished presenters for the one-day event. In advance of this year's conference, we asked him to talk a little about what participants can expect from their day at UW-Stevens Point.
WIST: In the past couple of years, Focal Point has included discussions on packaging based both on plastic films and on paper-based materials. This year's conference focuses tightly on paper- and paperboard in food packaging and serviceware. Can you talk a little about why that was chosen as the theme for the conference this year?
Well, a number of things came into play. First, our audience make-up in the past couple of years has featured predominantly representatives of the paper and packaging supply chains. Second, feedback we gather from previous years' events as well as ideas-testing that we do with our event stakeholders have both indicated that we should do more on this topic. And finally, our own observations about what is going on in the packaging, quick serve, sustainability and end-of-life areas pointed to an opportunity to establish a finely focused event on food packaging and serviceware with paper and paperboard as the underlying medium.
WIST: This is the fifth year for the Focal Point conference. Based on past events, what can we expect in terms of the audience - who typically attends in this annual event?
You know, we expect to see a good range of manufacturers and converters from Wisconsin... the event is located pretty close to a major hub for specialty paper manufacturers in the United states. We also expect to see representatives from QSR and CPG businesses that have or would like to have paper- and paperboard-based performance packaging as part of their portfolios. Suppliers are typically well-represented too. And then we always get the surprise attendees... visitors from the east or west coasts that have heard about the event and made the trip over. Audience members range from VPs from both technical and market perspectives through business development and regulatory functions as well as technical personnel from either a laboratory or plant setting.
WIST: Please describe briefly WIST's role and involvement in relation to the pulp and paper industry and in particular specialty papers and packaging.
A major goal is to support the nation's pulp and paper industry whether through training courses and conference events like Focal Point or contract research and development projects that utilize some unique capability we have in Stevens Point. Pride of place goes to the University's 20-inch Fourdrinier paper machine which we make available for contract work, small production runs and new product development to businesses throughout the U.S. Second to the paper machine is a new coating and laminating pilot line for aqueous or solvent-free coating to improve performance attributes. And I should also mention our compostability testing laboratory which evaluates compostable packaging against ASTM D6868, the standard specification against which coated paper and paperboard is judged.
WIST: You're on the agenda yourself and will be speaking about compostability testing. How about a little preview on what you will be touching on in that presentation?
I just mentioned compostability testing in the previous answer and I shall be talking more on this topic at Focal Point. In talking with some of our clients we have realized there are some misconceptions and misunderstandings around compostability and standards and I hope in 25 minutes or less to provide a crash course in compostability... the whys, whats and hows, if you like.