Washington — As governments move to limit business activity to slow transmission of the coronavirus, several industry associations are urging Washington to designate plastics, chemicals, recycling and packaging companies as critical sectors that need to be kept open.
In a related push, the National Association of Manufacturers called March 18 for the federal government to set up a broad-based $1.4 trillion loan fund to provide liquidity to manufacturers and small businesses.
More specific to plastics, the American Chemistry Council told President Donald Trump and the governors of all 50 states in a March 17 letter that chemicals and plastic products are essential for health and safety and their manufacturing needs to be maintained, even as other businesses like restaurants and nonessential retail are curtailed.
“While many of these limitations are currently in the best interest of public health, it is essential that key industries and sectors, including the chemical manufacturing sector, are able to maintain operations throughout this challenging time,” ACC President and CEO Chris Jahn wrote.
Jahn noted that vinyl is used in medical tubing and blood and IV bags, while polypropylene is a key component in masks, gowns, goggles and personal protective equipment. And polycarbonate is used to produce syringes, surgical instruments and IV components.
“Plastics and chemicals are vital to keeping medical environments and treatments sanitary, safe and effective,” he wrote, adding that single-use packaging is important. “Single-use plastic products and packaging help prevent contamination of food, medicine, personal care and medical products and help prevent person-to-person transmission of disease-causing microorganisms.”
Jahn said the chemical industry has embraced measures like teleworking, social distancing, limiting business travel and hygiene recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but he said that many manufacturing operations cannot be done remotely.
He noted that the Department of Homeland Security already considers chemical manufacturing to be a “critical infrastructure sector” because its products are used in many other industries.
Other trade groups were making similar pushes, as the state government in Pennsylvania March 19 ordered all “nonlife sustaining businesses” to close. That order, however, said plastics products, rubber products and resin manufacturing were among businesses that would be allowed to remain open.
Plastics Industry Association President and CEO Tony Radoszewski issued a statement March 20 requesting that all plastic resin and plastic product manufacturers be deemed essential in any government shutdown directives, citing medical and food packaging applications in particular.
As well, Robin Weiner, president of the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, wrote Vice President Mike Pence March 18 to say that the association fully supports “drastic actions” taken by state and local governments in recent days to close nonessential businesses.
But she asked Pence and the government’s coronavirus task force to clarify what operations are essential as governments around the country weigh stronger measures.
“We urge you to help provide consistency in the determination of what is considered essential by formally recognizing that recycling operations are essential businesses, necessary for the continued supply of raw materials for U.S. manufacturing,” Weiner wrote.
NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons made a similar point in his March 18 request for a $1.4 trillion interest-free loan “resiliency fund” for companies.
“Manufacturers are also calling on the government to adopt a federal designation that deems the manufacturing supply chain ‘essential’ to help mitigate any interruptions in providing the supplies that are critical to the health and safety of America,” Timmons wrote.
NAM released an updated coronavirus response plan of Washington-related recommendations to aid manufacturers, including tax changes that treat the virus as an economic loss as well as rule changes that would allow companies to pay some wages to underemployed workers who may be receiving unemployment benefits.
Additionally, the Flexible Packaging Association sent a letter to federal and state governments March 19 asking for “essential” status for the industry allowing companies to remain open.
The Washington-based Vinyl Institute also sent a letter to federal officials urging them to classify the vinyl industry as essential in the federal government’s coronavirus guidance, continuing a similar designation first granted to the industry in homeland security reviews in 2007.