NEWSFLASH – PPE Demand Creating Film Shortages
What does the fight against Coronavirus, Pet Food, Ready Meals and Snack Foods all have in common?
The answer: - in one way or another they all rely on flexible plastics and that, it seems, is the origin of a problem. If we consider the estimated 1 billion items of PPE the NHS received in the 3 week period Feb 25th – April 18th and that the demand for PPE continues to grow week by week, in effect what the fight against the virus is demanding, is more and more need for flexible plastic.
If we then multiply this demand across the 180 or so countries also fighting the virus, we can begin to appreciate the reasons for shortages of some other plastics around the World. China, in particular, is sucking in fibre grade polymer in order to produce the billions of masks, visors, goggles, boot covers, gowns etc. demanded on a worldwide basis. This internal shortage has occurred despite China switching nearly 30% of its standard PP grade manufacturing capacity to producing fibre grade.
Thus, despite the reduced requirements in other product areas, some polymer suppliers are struggling to cope with the extra demand required for PPE products and as a consequence they also are diverting polymer manufacture into fibre grade products. To add to these problems, we still have reduced output from some film manufacturers, where social distancing and self-isolation have reduced their capacity.
It is evident that this lack of availability of some films is becoming critical in the UK, as during the last two weeks National Flexible have been approached to supply a wide range of different films from companies who cannot get film from their regular supplier. Some of the enquiries received are from companies whom we know well and would dearly love to supply, unfortunately, in some cases, due to the specialized nature of the films they are simply not available ‘off the shelf’. As a consequence, we have regrettably been unable to supply. Fortunately, for several other companies we have been able to not only solve their immediate problems but also establish continuity of supply.
The following list gives some insight into the range of products being requested.
Pouches for both pet food and liquids
Metallised films for snack foods
Peelable lidding films for ready meals
White films for printing for biscuits and confectionery
Printed films, both OPP and laminates, for bakery and confectionery
PET films for lamination
OPP mill reel for printing
As indicated, whilst we have not been able to meet every demand, for one very grateful company we did break our own record for the supply of printed film. We received the artwork Tuesday 2pm, repro’d approved, originated, slit film, plates delivered and printed, with successful delivery of finished print to site by 4:30pm on Thursday, enabling them to meet some critical delivery deadlines.
However, the purpose of these notes has never been to promote the National Flexible business, but always to highlight the issues relevant to everyone in our markets and right now film and pouch shortages are a growing problem. These shortages, according to our friends in film manufacture, could be with us until July at least which is a long time to be worrying about packaging supply.
As a consequence, many film prices are increasing, along with transport costs, and the polymer industry never misses a price increasing opportunity. For example, Chinese PP raffia grade polymer prices surged 35% in a week in April as demand outstripped supply.
Finally, as more and more companies open for business and return to work, demand for film will increase, albeit at some point PPE demand should abate. But at what point, one should ask, will we see the financial benefit of the dramatic fall in the oil price. When is this going to feed through to polymer prices which once again seem to defy gravity? So, for those companies planning to return to work and for others continuing to work, now may be a good time to check your stocks and lead times along with the stockholding of your current supplier!
As ever, I welcome your views on any of the items raised. I would also reassure anyone who is interested, I am continuing to pursue my efforts to re balance ‘The Plastic Paranoia’ of the media. Unfortunately, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth etc. once again got negative plastic publicity from the Sunday Times letters page. Meanwhile they ignored our letter supporting Dominic Lawson’s ‘Paeon of Praise’ to the role of plastic in the fight against coronavirus. So once again we have written to the editor to ask him why!
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