Plastic products are critical weapons on the front lines in the battle with COVID-19. Obvious examples include clear shielding, nasal swabs, test kits, ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment.
But that's just scratching the surface. Most of the plastics supply chain has remained open throughout the pandemic. Not only did most processors stay open, but so did the massive network of businesses needed to supply resin, spare parts, tooling and equipment.
Many processors adapted quickly. We saw dozens of firms use their 3D printing and fabrication expertise to make face shields. Thermoformers and film extruders started making PPE. Toolmakers and injection molders made ear savers and medical products.
Companies stocked up on face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer for their own workers. Managers implemented guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And much-needed medical projects that typically take weeks or months were fast-tracked and finished in record time.
The world was unprepared for COVID, but the global plastics industry quickly mobilized.
Health care workers were the first responders in the battle against the coronavirus. But plastics industry workers were among the next in line. We're calling them rapid responders, and this special issue honors an industry that stepped up when it was needed.
The editorial teams at Plastics News, Rubber & Plastics News and Sustainable Plastics worked together on the project. We covered a lot, but I'm keenly aware that there are hundreds of other companies and projects that we could have mentioned.
Everything hasn't always gone perfectly smoothly. Some products have been scarce. We've fielded calls from desperate readers trying to find clear sheet for shielding and containers for hand sanitizer. Companies had to deal with employees who feared that they would be exposed to the coronavirus at work and then bring it home to their families.
Braskem America briefly captured the world's attention, when two plants pulled 28-day shifts to ensure there would be no interruption in production of much-needed polypropylene for medical supplies. The workers were hailed as heroes.
Indeed, they were. And so are many of the industry's other rapid responders.
If the industry's image looks better today than it did a year ago, don't forget that's come at a stiff price. Hundreds of thousands have died, many more suffered, and the health care sector has been stretched to the limit.
Students of history can argue that plastics played a key role in World War II, and while that's true, the industry was still new — less than 40 years old. The plastics industry that's helping battle COVID-19 is more mature, more capable and much larger. It's proven itself to be necessary and indispensable in the fight.
Our work still isn't finished, but we are heading in the right direction.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.
Plastics News editorial cartoon by Rich Williams. Cartoons are available for purchase at www.plasticsnews.com/data-lists/cartoons