Call for polymer, plastics industries to be declared essential as lockdown looms

25th March 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Staff Writer and Photographer

South African plastics industry representative organisation Plastics SA has called on government to reclassify some sectors within the broader plastics industry as essential service providers during the upcoming 21-day national lockdown, owing their contribution to packaging essential items.

This comes in the wake of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of the lockdown, from March 26 to April 16 as part of efforts to protect millions of citizens from the life-threatening Covid-19.

Plastics SA represents all sectors of the plastics industry, including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers, fabricators and recyclers.

Plastics SA executive director Anton Hanekom says the plastics industry is vital in keeping the country running, ensuring that food and other essentials are available on supermarket shelves and that the healthcare system is supplied with all the materials and equipment needed to fight the disease.

Since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country a few weeks ago, the plastics manufacturing industry has seen a dramatic increase in demand for products across the sector.

He notes that panic buying by consumers, who are stocking up on groceries, cleaning materials and hand sanitisers, has forced packaging manufacturers to work at “full capacity in order to keep up with the demand”, while the medical industry has also seen a sharp increase in orders placed for intravenous bags, tubes, oxygen masks, gloves and protective gear, as well as packaging for medicine.

Hanekom predicts that this growing demand for plastics products will continue to escalate over the next three weeks as people are no longer allowed to visit restaurants and will be forced to prepare their food at home. “It is crucial to have workers in these manufacturing facilities during the lockdown period to maintain an uninterrupted supply of products."

While the plastics industry provides employment to about 60 000 people, he points out that only some of them have jobs that allow them to work from home.

“Manufacturers of basic and essential plastic packaging, hygiene and health products need a steady supply of raw materials, making it also necessary for the polymer suppliers of those specific polymers to be on duty to ensure the material reaches those in the supply chain.”

Meanwhile, Hanekom also highlights that Plastics SA will be working closely with these suppliers and manufacturers to ensure they produce these products in a hygienic environment and that their workers are also protected.

Plastics SA is currently also engaging with member companies regarding the essential products they are capable of producing to assist in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, such as ventilators, face masks, various equipment for healthcare workers, containers and bottles for hand sanitisers and soaps, infection control bags, clinical waste bins, anti-infection soluble laundry bags and polythene sheeting.

He also notes that the increased local demand will ensure South African rands stay within the country, thereby boosting the local economy.

Many of the plastic products that are now in high demand were previously imported from overseas, says Hanekom, noting that it is encouraging to see that local manufacturing is now being boosted and that the revenue generated from that does not leave South Africa.

“We are urging suppliers, retailers and consumers to continue to ‘buy local’ and support local enterprise, and are appealing to government to continue working closely with industry role-players to ensure that a sufficient supply of food and household products are available to the South African public throughout the lockdown period,” Hanekom concludes.