Working Together on Industry Solutions
by Craig Saunders
IAPD President

lot has changed in the world since we entered the “lock-down” because of COVID-19. Now, with more people getting vaccinated, we can start looking forward to life returning to something that’s closer to “normal.” Our post-COVID life may look different than what it was like before March 2020, but we are resilient and we will make it work. I’m happy to see that associations, like IAPD, are scheduling in-person conferences and tradeshows again, and I look forward to seeing you all in Louisville, KY, USA in August at IAPD’s Annual Convention. In addition, companies are beginning to reestablish travel and, most importantly, we can start to plan much-needed vacations outside our homes.

Craig Saunders headshot
New challenges
As we look to the future and life returns to something closer to normal, as an industry we are now faced with a new set of challenges with resin supply and price volatility. Most distributors experienced unprecedented long lead-times with just about any clear plastic during the height of the COVID crisis. As we entered the fall of 2020, the Gulf Coast was hit with back-to-back storms — eight in total — forcing petrochemical producers to temporarily cease production. Many polymer producers were already operating at capacity due to increased demand directly and indirectly related to the pandemic, whether for packaging and personal protective equipment (PPE) or strong demand in recreation, building and construction.

Just when we thought we made it through 2020, the Gulf Coast was hit again with a historic winter storm in February 2021, paralyzing the region. Prolonged sub-zero temperatures are bad enough, causing damage to pipes, valve, pumps and equipment, but forced, unplanned shutdowns due to “rolling blackouts” caused severe damage to petrochemical plants.

Russ Consentino, CPMR, shared his insights in a post on the IAPD blog. He focused on polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (especially HDPE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Regarding PP, Consentino said, “With gasoline consumption down, refineries are running at lower rates, meaning they are making less propylene monomer as a byproduct of their processes. Supplies of natural gas, also a plastics feedstock, have tightened because processing natural gas produces less propylene than does crude oil.”

The supply of polyethylene (PE) is being disrupted due to several factors. First, demand was already high before the extreme weather hit the Texas Gulf Coast in February. After the complications due to the weather and resulting rolling blackouts, several resin producers declared force majeure. Consentino notes in his post that there was a time late in February when an estimated 85 percent of resin capacity was down. Compounding the problem, Consentino continues, “A large portion of HDPE sales are in reprocessed resin. The feedstocks could be from a sheet processor’s scrap, scrap purchased on the open market or even repurposed scrap from milk jugs. As of this writing, virtually every major HDPE sheet producer is out of reprocessed resin supplies and it could be 2022 until this situation improves. We may see some HDPE virgin resin reach the market in May, but it will be slow to start.”

High resin prices and limited supply are impacting PVC production of extruded shapes and pipe, valves and fittings. In addition, according to Consentino, “One major PVC resin producer shut down for maintenance and has to date not successfully returned to regular production.”

Visit to read the blog post in its entirety.

Transportation still tight
In addition to these issues, transportation and logistics continue to be a challenge, both over-the-road and ocean freight due increased demand and not enough capacity with equipment and drivers.

All indications are that 2021 will be a strong economic year with GDP forecasted to be in the double digits for the second half. With pent-up discretionary spending and low interest rates, demand in our industries could be strong. Market sectors such as medical, industrial, retail and aerospace could rebound as most of the population receives vaccinations and states open back up. As with all presidential administrations, there will be changes that will affect our industry, good and bad. It is important that as IAPD members, we seize those opportunities and address the challenges together.

Studying solutions
I am happy to report that IAPD has formed a Recycling Task Force to understand and address the industry challenges and opportunities related to implementing a stronger closed-loop recycling system. Sustainability will become a very important aspect to the plastics industry in the future and together we must understand and work together to come up with solutions for the betterment of our industry and society.