Plastics industry shines in fight against COVID-19
April 9, 2020 By Jeff Cottrill
The UK plastics industry is playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19, with many companies going to great lengths to meet sudden spikes in demand for key products, ranging from medical packaging to components for ventilators.
The British Plastics Federation (BPF), which represents 85% of the UK plastics industry by turnover, has been liaising with key government departments such as the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on a daily basis to ensure key advice and guidance reaches the industry, as well as to share insights, unique data and key concerns.
In addition, the BPF has been fielding daily enquiries from a huge range of organisations, including the UK government, Scottish Government and Welsh Government. These have included over 35 urgent calls for materials, bottles, lids, visors and components for ventilators, amongst others. The BPF has been using its extensive knowledge of the supply chain to help source supplies wherever possible.
Plastics companies have found themselves under unprecedented pressure and many have managed to alter their typical manufacturing schedules to produce essential products at breakneck speed. Some companies are providing supplies to the NHS at cost price, despite pressures on their own businesses.
On 5 April, Rutland MP Alicia Kearns wrote that Rutland Plastics should be “rightly recognised for simply outstanding national spirit”, after the company began producing medical equipment for the Nightingale Ward Hospital at the ExCel Centre. Meanwhile Numatic has developed and manufactured face shields in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Its face shield is currently in use at the Worcestershire NHS Trust, West Midlands Ambulance Service, Birmingham Children’s Hospital and The Gibraltar Health Authority. And out of respect for the UK’s outstanding NHS staff, Polystar Plastics has said it will donate £5 to the NHS for every tonne of its new PCWflex material sold in 2020.
Companies like Cromwell Polythene are providing everyday but vital products such as refuse sacks and recycling sacks to key industries, as well as manufacturing clinical waste sacks, gloves and aprons. Some manufacturers have shifted to 24/7 production and are using innovations like the Intouch i4 Cloud to facilitate this, as it allows them to leave the machines completely unmanned during the weekend, increasing production whilst keeping their staff safe.
There has obviously been a big increase in demand for medical packaging, as well as hand sanitiser bottles and lids. INEOS announced on 24 March that it would build a hand sanitiser plant in just ten days that was capable of producing one million bottles per month. As companies have been working hard to meet unprecedented demand, UL has been offering Safety Data Sheets (SDS) free of charge, which are required by those manufacturing and shipping hand sanitisers. It is also offering free ‘pandemic awareness’ courses.
Non-medical plastic packaging also continues to play an important role in helping to keep food fresh during the coronavirus, and Ultimate Packaging were even mentioned on BBC News on 3 April after the managing director thanked all his staff for their hard work. Panic buying and the shift in consumer behaviour as the majority of people work from home have presented ongoing challenges that the packaging industry has been working tirelessly to overcome.
To help the plastics industry get all the information it needs, the BPF has also made its webinars available for everyone to attend, although only its members will have access to the recordings. These webinars cover everything from energy management during partial shutdowns to the impact of COVID-19 on polymer supply.
BPF Director General Philip Law comments:
The plastics industry is vital in the fight against COVID-19. Despite the challenges every business is facing right now, we have been helping to feed the nation, protect key workers and supply a wide range of essential medical supplies, including components for ventilators. I’m proud of how our industry has stepped up and shown its true colours during this time of crisis.