British plastic industry rises to the pandemic challenge
Domestic supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is set to hit 70% in the UK after a major push by the country’s plastic industry.
Prior to COVID-19, less than 1% of the UK’s PPE supply was manufactured domestically, but with the pandemic rupturing global supply chains a concerted effort was made to source locally.
A new visual document from the British Plastics Federation (BPF) – How the Plastics Industry Responded to COVID-19 – highlights that the UK has the capacity to manufacture more than 100 million aprons per month and deliver more than three million face visors each week to the NHS.
Conservative MP Alexander Stafford, who sits on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, says the plastics industry has been “vital” in the country’s fight against the virus.
“Typically, the UK imports cheap plastics from countries like China,” Stafford says. “But we have the skills and the expertise right here to make high quality, hospital grade reusable equipment that is good to our environment.”
Over the past year the BPF has helped Whitehall and the devolved governments source essential supplies for frontline healthcare workers including 50,000 bottles of hand sanitiser a week for NHS workers during the height of the pandemic and millions of face shields for hospitals across England, Scotland and Wales.
SNP MP Richard Thomson, the party’s spokesperson for Business and Industry, says the document reveals the “magnificent” effort of business in tackling the virus.
“Rightly, there’s been a strong focus on how the public sector has risen to the challenge of protecting us during the pandemic,” Thomson says.
The response of the manufacturing sector has been magnificent, with supply chains produced in many cases from a very low starting point
“However, the less well-known story is how businesses have also played their part in innovating and responding to our collective needs. The response of the manufacturing sector has been magnificent, with supply chains produced in many cases from a very low starting point.”
Thomson singled out the plastics industry “in particular” as having “risen to the challenge” posed by the pandemic. “Whether that’s in terms of producing products such as screens and barriers to safely distance us and prevent the virus spreading…to products to help dispose of clinical waste or indeed the millions of high-grade PPE items needed by health and social care teams as the go about their work.”
As the BPF document makes clear “Everything from a testing site to a Nightingale hospital requires a steady supply of plastic. Including road barriers and construction products such as flooring, insulation, pipes, windows and roofing.” Plastic is also widely used in medical equipment and BPF members have been supplying parts including turning knobs and breathing tubing for ventilators. Hospitals had 7,400 ventilators at the start of the pandemic and they now have more than 30,000.
Director General Philip Law says that throughout Covid-19, the BPF and its members have helped create a safe environment across the UK for the NHS and business.
Over 100 of our members now manufacture PPE or the materials that supply PPE and we will continue to play our part in the fight against COVID-19
“Many BPF members have transformed and expanded their manufacturing operations, working longer and harder to ensure we can provide the protective equipment and medical supplies the UK needs,” Law adds.
“Over 100 of our members now manufacture PPE or the materials that supply PPE and we will continue to play our part in the fight against COVID-19.”
Thomson concludes that there are “many lessons” to be learned from the past year, including the value of maintaining a manufacturing sector that can continue to manufacture, innovate, and “produce at volume”.
Click here to view the full visual document.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.