Filipino Plastic Industry Step Up to Address the Challenge of PPE Shortage to Protect our Frontliners

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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in critical shortages of imported Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). Increased global and local demand and severe supply chain disruptions have resulted to limited access to key materials used to make gowns and coveralls for frontline personnel.

The fabric used in PPEs is made from medical grade, breathable non-woven polypropylene (PP) laminated with polyethylene (PE), and the surging global demand for this material has exceeded supply.

Philippine Plastics Industry Association (PPIA) President Vicente Co and his predecessor and now National Solid Waste Management Commissioner Crispian Lao, deemed that it was imperative to shift the manufacturing of this material locally, so as to dramatically shorten the supply chain and bring the new PPEs to front liners sooner. Localization provides the much needed jobs and protects the country from the effect of global shortages.

The first phase looked into locally produced non-woven PP materials that can be made into coveralls and used in minimal risk situations by providing small amounts of liquid penetration. Providing this to support services staff would mean that there will be more medical grade PPEs available to our doctors and nurses who are in direct contact and exposed to high risk conditions. PPIA also introduced and made them available to cleaning and disinfecting crews, solid waste haulers as well as through donations from its members and the use of their environmental fund.

Having established a regular supply of PP non-woven coveralls (along with other materials) now widely used and made available in the market, the industry wanted to take this to the next level.

The Philippine Plastics Industry Association (PPIA), Prima Plastic Manufacturing Corporation, and ExxonMobil Chemicals collaborated to further develop an alternative material using a Polyethylene (PE)-based solution.

This novel material did not come without any challenges. The initial samples of PE-based films were prone to tearing during sewing and suffered from a lack of durability. Prima Plastic had to innovate around this by adding cellophane tape to reinforce the stitching.

To address durability concerns, ExxonMobil supplied its Metallocene Performance Polyethylene compound as the basis for the primary formulation, which greatly enhanced material endurance. Efforts are now underway by PPIA to continually develop and begin scaling the production of PE based PPEs in the form of Coveralls and Gowns using locally-produced material.

Understanding the potential effects of the impact to the environment with the increased consumption of disposable PPEs, the material of choice Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP) are highly RECYCLABLE POST TREATMENT (pursuant to DOH guidelines on infectious waste), and converted to trash bags, crates and pallets or adopted in mixed plastic waste to asphalt road applications.

The PPIA to date, in cooperation with various members and local manufacturers, have produced, donated and distributed over 10,000 PPE’s.