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Coronavirus: Firms warn of shop-screen plastic shortage


Supermarket check-out

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There is a shortage of the plastic sheets used to make clear screens that employers have been advised to install for workplace safety, the BBC has learned.

Supermarkets have already fitted screens at checkouts.

Government guidance published on Monday advised other workplaces, from labs to factories, to take a similar approach.

But a spike in demand has led to shortages of some types of plastic sheets.

These include acrylic, which can used as an alternative to glass; polycarbonate, which can be used to make windows; and PETG, a plastic that can be used to make water bottles:.

As well as supermarkets and retailers, there is demand from other firms for plastic sheets.

For example, Uber and Addison Lee are looking to put the sheets into taxis, with Uber testing them in Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham.

Industry body the British Plastics Federation said some companies are finding it harder to source the material, and that it is monitoring the situation.

Firms that supply plastics to businesses warned of constricted supply.

Shortage warning

Chris Marmion, managing director of Plastic Shop Screens, told the BBC’s Wake up to Money: “It’s quite simple. There isn’t enough [plastic] coming into the country to meet the current demand.

“We were warned about this approximately four weeks ago by our trusted suppliers… As the recommendations [for shops and businesses to use plastic screens] have come out we’ve now seen an increase in orders through the website and through the phone, and we’re currently having to pre-order materials now into July to keep up with the supply chain.”

One plastic products company called The Plastic Man has a banner on its website warning customers that it’s out of stock until mid-June due to a “global shortage”. No one at the business was available for comment.

Wake Up to Money programme asked Mr Marmion whether some firms may not be able to make their business Covid-secure due to the shortage.

“That could possibly be the case,” he said. “We saw this coming quite early. We’ve got orders for a great deal of stock all the way into July try to and keep up with the demand that’s coming directly to us.

“Yesterday alone we had competitors calling us, asking us whether we had any of our material available to sell directly to them.

“An awful lot of companies like ourselves are placing orders to secure materials ahead of time… Come a couple of weeks, I think there may definitely be a shortage, a lot more than what we have right now.”

Staffing issues

A plastics supplier, who asked not be named, said demand was about five times higher than usual.

He said: “The bigger factories have got their own issues with regard to people who are self-isolating or recovering. It stands to reason they can’t just immediately double or quadruple their output. It’s like steering a tanker, it takes a long time for them to change direction.

“Also every shop, business, train or bus is going to need this material so there’s a huge spike in demand in a short period of time.”

He added: “Demand is about five or six times higher than usual and it’ll grow as more and more businesses get their plans in place for people coming back and shops reopening.”

A spokesman for the British Plastics Federation said: “Some companies are reporting it is harder to get hold of these materials and the time it takes to receive deliveries has increased.

“The BPF will continue to monitor this complex situation as best we can to advise the government about the supply of these and other essential plastic products.”



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