Polycarbonate for PPE
2020 will most likely be remembered as the year of the Pandemic and probably one to forget as far as most people are concerned. With disruption to work, travel, businesses, holidays and overall general life across much of the World, it really has been a trying period for the Human race. We’ve found that many have embraced it and used the time in lockdown to do good and to help people and it’s also created a feeling of solidarity in many countries, pulling society together.
It’s also created opportunities for many businesses (and unfortunately also taken them away) in various industries which have actually thrived and found that the Pandemic has created more business and more value to their business. It’s a harsh reality that during these times, some industries will collapse and suffer losses and some will boom. Plastics is one industry which has definitely seen a massive boost to their customer base and overall sales.
The plastics industry offers a double edged sword - a valuable manufacturing process offering millions of jobs, with real-world applications and various types of plastic availability used across other industries. The fact is that although plastics have been a hot topic in relation to the environment recently, it is one of the most valuable to modern society and the Coronavirus has proven that, particularly with the surge in demand for face masks and protective gear which uses plastic in almost every design.
Plastic is versatile and flexible and great for fabrication into almost any design you would want. Durability, tensile strength and cost are just some of the key reasons why plastics, particularly polycarbonate is so popular and safety gear and medical equipment utilises this plastic effectively.
It’s easy to see why polycarbonate has become an essential material this year in particular. Due to the Pandemic, there has been an explosion in the need for face shields and protective eye and face equipment. The need for protection against the Coronavirus has forged a reliance on these plastic materials and polycarbonate is used for safety glasses and face shields used across retail, manufacturing, event industries and commercial businesses.
The need for hygiene and effective protection for the user but offering clarity and comfort at the same time is a big ask and certain materials were flagged as vital for part of the design for much of the protective equipment that has been produced in 2020. Large orders have been shipped globally from many plastic manufacturers and companies looking to offer effective solutions during this time of one of the worst diseases to strike the human race in over a century and polycarbonate has seen a massive increase in demand. It has also been used for not only face shields but also blood oxygenators and syringes - items which have been just as crucial for medical staff and facilities.
It’s not just polycarbonate though, which has seen a spike - disposable medical devices have been designed with Polyvinyl chloride, PVC, for items such as tubing, oxygen masks and surgical gloves and many more.
Applications for the COVID-19 Outbreak
These are some of the key products that were produced using plastic material, including polycarbonate and acrylics.
- Facemasks with respirators
- Facewear and headgear (shields)
- Medical devices
- Medical disposable equipment (surgical gloves, syringes)
- Medical trays and surgical tools
- Treatment apparatus
- Footwear and clothing for medical environments
- 3D Printers
PPE for healthcare has been a crucial element during the Pandemic and continues to be a primary concern for many establishments in the care sector and the health industry. Polycarbonate and similar plastics are vital to the ongoing production of this equipment and one of the key benefits also include how environmentally friendly polycarbonate is.
There has been a movement in recent years to try and reduce the production and use of single-use plastics particularly in the food and drink industry. This was supported by Governments and lobbying groups, of course the aim was certainly to help reduce the impact on the environment. Unfortunately, the restrictions on cutlery, straws and plastic one-use items being produced seemed to have been relaxed once the Pandemic hit and this has meant a slide back into using these harmful substitutes. Just as society was getting used to using alternatives (like paper straws and reusable, recyclable options for packaging) there has been a shift back to these single-use plastics because of the fear of the virus spreading.
It has been shown that it is very unlikely you would catch Coronavirus from packaging or paper/card coffee cups but not entirely impossible and with the Pandemic spiking in areas around the globe, this has led to an approach of being safe rather than sorry. The reinstatement of single use plastics has caused concern for many, just as we were starting to make real change globally to the impact it had on the environment.
Polycarbonate vs Single Use
We know the benefits of polycarbonate plastic but it has really shone and stood out as a perfect solution, solving two problems at once. One; the production and manufacturing of safety gear and PPE which has been essential during the Pandemic has offered a quick, flexible way to create the equipment and tools necessary and two, it is fully recyclable once the items are used or need destroying. Single-use plastics have been a problem for a long time and the damaging impact they have on the environment have encouraged people to look to alternatives. This includes using silicone wraps for saving food, suitable containers for storage and bars of soap, instead of liquid hand soap in plastic dispensers.
Obviously, polycarbonate wouldn’t be used to produce coffee cups or straws (these however, must surely soon need to return to the paper and card alternatives that were prominent before the Pandemic) but it has been used for some food containers, reusable bottles, microwave-safe cookware, water dispensers and baby bottles. Along with application in sporting goods, garden equipment, furniture, electrical appliances and medical products, it is the most versatile plastic which offers a safe and environmentally friendly solution. The bulk of plastic manufacturing has focused on PPE equipment and shielding products during 2020 and much of that has come from polycarbonate plastic. Hopefully we can get back to a more eco-friendly approach soon, where single-use plastic is resigned to history where it belongs.