COVID-19 impacts: A renewed faith in plastic

Eaman Aman
Eaman Aman
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The petrochemical industry has played an important role in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 new cases are confirmed around the world, the demand for plastic products manufactured by the petrochemical industry has increased rapidly.

In response, the industry stands ready to meet the ever-increasing demand of disinfectants, antiseptic and cleaning solutions that are made from plastic materials and are crucial to protect against COVID-19.

The petrochemicals industry is responsible for providing consumers with much needed hygiene products that are made from plastic materials. For example, it produces facemasks, including the polypropylene fiber N95 mask, gloves, and body bags that are essential parts of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. In line with social distancing measures, plastic face shields and disposable polyethylene gloves are also compulsory in many countries.

Many other plastic products (made of synthetic polymers) are also used extensively in medical equipment, such as disposable polycarbonate syringes, COVID-19 test kits, medicine casings and more.

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As a result, the demand for plastic-intensive products has soared due to the pandemic. Unlike other industries, which suffered lockdown amid current pandemic, the plastic industry did not shut down. Instead, it is exerting efforts to curb the spread of the virus. Manufacturers who are not previously involved in the manufacturing of personal protection gears, medical supplies or single-use plastic packaging, are changing their production lines to deliver these needed goods.

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The industry has also received a boost from the recent announcement by several governments and city-states mainly in North America and EU countries. The aim is to delay or even roll back plastic bans plans, particularly the unbanning of the one single-use plastics like shopping bags, disposable cutlery, and polystyrene food containers as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

An employee arranges N95 face masks in a box, at a factory that produces 40,000 N95 masks per day, in Mexico City. (AFP)
An employee arranges N95 face masks in a box, at a factory that produces 40,000 N95 masks per day, in Mexico City. (AFP)

Fear of contamination from reused packaging and the need to operate with a new business model that encourages reduced workers, with strict social distancing laws between people, have urged business owners to rely heavily on reusable packaging, from bags to disposable coffee cups. For example, under current conditions, restaurants are obliged to operate a take-out model, resulting in an uptick in demand for plastic and Styrofoam containers. Just a few months before COVID-19, plastic was viewed as an environmental menace – now it is being seen as central to hygiene changes in a post-coronavirus era.

This difficult time has proved that oil derivatives such as plastics are helping to save lives, which is the ultimate goal during pandemic. Despite the many challenges all businesses face right now, the petrochemical industry have been helping to feed the people, protect frontline workers and supply a wide-ranging of essential medical supplies, including components for ventilators needed for COVID-19 patients. The future remains very strong for plastics and the petrochemical industry as people around the world have a renewed faith in their products in the midst of the virus outbreak.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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