Six weeks ago, could you have imagined a positive feature about plastics being one of the most popular stories in the Washington Post?
It's captured America's attention, the story of how 46 Braskem America workers in Marcus Hook, Pa., pulled a 28-day shift to ensure that there would be no interruption in production of much-needed polypropylene for medical supplies during the COVID-19 crisis.
Our coverage of the lockdown, by senior reporter Frank Esposito, has been incredibly popular on PlasticsNews.com and social media, too. But the fact that a wholly positive story about a plastics resin plant was trending with Post readers on April 23 is worth noting.
The section with readers' comments wasn't full of snark or criticism of plastics. It was full of praise:
"People like this deserve medals," one wrote.
"The beautiful simplicity of this story is so heartwarming. Smiling through tears, here. Much gratitude to the entire team, and best wishes as they join their loved ones," said another.
"Every one of those workers is an American Hero!"
Marcus Hook ended the four-week-long effort last week. Meanwhile, 44 workers at Braskem's plant in Neal, W.Va., are doing the same thing; their 28-day lockdown ends April 29.
Braskem officials proposed the idea, but all the workers who participated were volunteers. They worked 12-hour shifts, and the company provided extra pay, plus beds, food and internet access.
To help pass the time, some of the workers brought video games, TVs and a cornhole game. They were separated from family, and visitors were not allowed. One worker missed the birth of his first grandchild.
Imagine spending that much time with your colleagues, working long hours, unable to go out to a restaurant for dinner. They deserve all the praise they're getting.
They're not alone. Across America, and indeed around the globe, we're seeing stories every day about plastics companies doing what's needed to make products that are needed in the battle against the coronavirus.
It hasn't been easy. Some products are scarce. We've reported on shortages of plastic containers and clear sheet products, for example. Suppliers of those products are adding shifts and doing everything they can to meet orders, but demand is unprecedented.
This week, one supplier of polycarbonate film told us that it received the equivalent of a year's worth of orders in the past two months.
Their customers need bottles, film and sheet now, but in many cases they're being told the lead time for deliveries is a month or more.
But the supply chain is not only unbroken; it's growing. Every day we're hearing about companies making personal protection equipment, hospital beds, swabs and other medical supplies needed to ramp up COVID-19 testing.
In order for these processors to stay open and make essential products, they need a huge network of related businesses to supply resin, spare parts, tooling and equipment.
Plastics employers have learned a lot about how to keep workers safe. Company managers have become well versed on the guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It's also encouraging, but not surprising, to see so many plastics companies making donations of PPE other products to health care workers and first responders. Plastics companies have helped stock food banks and donated hand sanitizer, too.
All of the plastics workers who have stayed on the job, safely making essential products, deserve a moment in the spotlight. Like the Braskem America workers, you're all heroes.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.