Looking at the positive side of a global crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only presented a myriad of challenges in the healthcare systems, it has also exposed the vulnerabilities in industries and economies. However, the plastics and chemical industries are standing out, for all the good reasons, says Angelica Buan in this report.

Everyone has been caught off-guard; and not a single country was prepared for the economic brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. With plummeting stock markets, vulnerability hitting the financial sector, and contractions in market activities, economies are heading towards a global recession, based on a International Monetary Fund (IMF) assessment.

Looking at the positive side of a global crisis

The global economy is tethering a potential US$1 trillion-loss due to the lingering pandemic, aggravated by supply chain disruptions from China and a drastic drop in oil prices, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). To rebound quickly and mitigate long-term impact, the world markets require concerted effort from various industries and industry stakeholders.

Golden opportunity for single-use plastics

The plastics industry, which has previously been snarled in the issue of plastic waste pollution, has sized up the pandemic event as an opportunity to finally be recognised as a valuable material, and the safest choice during contagion outbreaks.

Not only that, the pandemic has augured the industry to buy time against the implementation of plastic bans and usage regulations, especially of single-use or disposable plastics, according to industry watchers. In light of the Covid-19, and given that reusable plastics or containers may be carriers of the virus and other pathogens, bans and remitting measures against plastics use have been deferred in some US states and countries.

For example, retail stores in New Hampshire and Maine in the US are reportedly using single-use plastic bags, a majority of which are now produced from recycled content, as a measure to stem the spread of the virus. In doing so, plastic bans have been suspended – at least, for the time being.

The US Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) has reportedly urged the Department of Environmental Conversation to effect a state-wide suspension of plastic bag ban in New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic in the US.

Looking at the positive side of a global crisis

Meanwhile, food chains, including Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, have put off their use of reusable cups and “for-here” wares; while food establishments have pushed for take-out or home delivery models, which are using more of single-use or disposable containers to transport food and drinks to customers.

In other words, the situation bodes well for plastics manufacturers to boost their claim that reusable containers, which are being promoted as substitutes for single-use plastics, are unrecyclable and nondegradable.

Looking at the positive side of a global crisis

In line with this, PLASTICS, led by Tony Radoszewski, penned a letter to the US Health and Human Services requesting its secretary, Alex Azar, to “make a public statement on the health and safety benefits seen in single-use plastics”. It said that in recent years, there has been a push to eliminate single-use products at the local, state and federal level. During that time, the plastics industry has been working to educate the general public and elected officials that single-use plastic products are the most sanitary choice when it comes to many applications, especially in the consumption and transport of food, whether purchased at a restaurant or at a grocery store. Now more than ever, it says, consumers are seeing the impacts of those local and state laws restricting the use of single-use products.

It underscores a few study findings that reusable bags “can carry viruses and bacteria, spread them throughout a grocery store, and live on surfaces for up to three days." That being said, Radoszewski has appealed to the department to “speak out against bans on these products as a public safety risk and help stop the rush to ban these products by environmentalists and elected officials that puts consumers and workers at risk”.

Plastic, an essential infrastructure in surviving Covid-19

During the course of the pandemic, demand for medical devices and personal protective equipment (PPE), all of which are either made out of or have significant components of plastics, has been record breaking.

It is for this reason that plastic resin and plastic product manufacturers must be regarded as essential, according to Radoszewski. He said that access to plastic products is critical, especially for healthcare workers.

Single-use plastic products, such as IV bags and ventilator machines, as well as hospital gowns, gloves, and masks, are essential during this time. Additionally, plastics are also essential in keeping food and drinks fresh, reducing contamination and waste. And this is true now that people have to stock up on food during a long home quarantine period.

“Single-use plastic bags provide a sanitary and convenient way to carry our groceries home while protecting supermarket employees and customers from whatever is lurking on reusable bags,” Radoszewski also argued.



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