Virginia Janssens: plastics manufacturers’ response to Covid-19 and recovery outlook

Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of PlasticsEurope, was recently interviewed by the Association of Hellenic Plastics Industries (AHPI) for its bimonthly magazine Plastics Chronicle

Looking back over the past months, the coronavirus has had a profound impact on our daily lives, from the way we work, interact with each other, take care of ourselves and of loved ones to how we learn, shop, entertain our kids, to name but a few.

Taking stock

Plastic brings many benefits in our everyday lives and plays a crucial role in a wide range of applications in COVID-19 times and beyond. Our members and their staff have been working relentlessly in challenging circumstances since the outbreak of COVID-19 to ensure much needed medical devices, protective equipment, as well as pharmaceutical and food packaging continue to be produced for healthcare workers and citizens. In response to the pandemic, our member companies’ efforts included developing new innovative designs for PPE, and partnering with health authorities and governments across Europe to allow products to reach those who needed them most.

Plastic is a solution and considering the recent shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in many countries, we believe people start to realise the value plastic products like masks and gloves have in keeping them safe every day. The personal safety we took for granted as citizens until not long ago, was swept away by the pandemic.

Moreover, we believe people are seeing the efforts done by the plastics industry to help, together with others, in this public health crisis. This situation shows us more than ever that no one can make it on its own. PPE coupled with other safety measures have allowed essential workers from different industries to continue operating during the coronavirus outbreak to ensure vital products for the population. We may also see an increased understanding in why plastic is used in non-PPE applications – for example protecting food from contamination.

In the long term, we are still focused on transitioning to a circular economy; plastic waste, recycling and reuse continue to be top of our mind. This circularity will be an essential component in plastics playing a key role in the EU Green Deal.

Apart from the medical sector, plastic continues to be urgently needed in our modern lives going forward – for packaging, building & construction, mobility, renewable energy to name but a few.

We want plastics to be produced and used sustainably by retaining their highest value as resources for new products at the end of their lives. This vision is shared along the value chain.

Our members continue working with a wide range of actors, and in particular policy-makers, to accelerate our journey towards circularity and with it end plastic waste. Most importantly, plastic waste needs to be disposed of properly and must not end up in the environment.

Looking ahead

In addition to circularity, as we seek to emerge from the crisis, we remain fully committed to meet EU’s climate ambitions. Therefore, we fully endorse the environmental objectives set forth by the EC and EU governments; we commit to support the current programmed legislative schedule to be maintained. Society needs science-based policies shaping the transition to circularity while allowing citizens to value plastic.

The crisis has shown the value of producing essential plastic products in Europe, protecting and helping feeding people and delivering medical equipment to frontline healthcare workers. We are proud that our members have quickly shifted their factories to the most urgent needs to provide solutions.

Looking ahead, there are lots of conversations around how green the recovery will be, and are entering into a period of continued economic uncertainty. Sustainability is a journey though, and if we look at how much progress our industry has made on circularity in the last five years, we expect that to continue as part of the recovery, and we may even see many incentives and ways to work with the EU and governments to ensure it happens.