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The Health of Nations: How Plastics Have Helped the COVID Response

The last 18 months have been a time of unprecedented challenge for individuals, families, and communities all over the world.

The way we all lived our lives before the pandemic now seems like a distant memory. The UK, like other nations across the globe, has had to adapt to the reality of living with a highly contagious airborne disease.

We have written previously about the impact that the COVID pandemic has had both on our own business, and on key sectors in which we operate. Disruption to supply chains, new product lines, and the contraction of industries such as aviation, are just some of the ways that the pandemic has impacted on ENL Group’s activities as a leading UK plastic moulding manufacturer.

Plastics Leading the Response

But the plastics industry has not just been impacted by COVID. It has also been absolutely critical in helping people all over the world respond to and manage the crisis.

This is something that often flies under the radar when it comes to public understanding. Because plastics are so much part of our everyday lives, it is easy to underappreciate the positive contribution they have made to the pandemic response.

The fact is, that plastics themselves have been at the forefront of dealing with COVID in both public and clinical settings. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that, without plastic, not only would the disruption to daily life been greater, but the health impact would have been higher.

Here at ENL Group, in direct response to the COVID crisis, we registered as a manufacturer able to assist with emergency equipment production. As a result, we were able to support Dyson with their ventilator trial program and along with supplying critical products such as sharps bins to the NHS.

We are just one firm within a wider sector that has made an enormous collective contribution. Here are what we believe are the top 5 ways that plastics have been at the heart of the UK’s pandemic response.

Personal Protective Equipment

In the early days of the crisis, we heard a great deal about PPE. Was there enough of it on the frontline? Was it the right sort of equipment? Were healthcare workers adequately protected? These were all valid questions at a time when the health service was being overwhelmed by a new and deadly disease.

However, the plastics industry responded at pace, increasing production both within the UK and overseas, to produce the PPE that healthcare workers needed.

And this PPE was not just seen in healthcare settings either. Plastic screens at supermarket checkouts, or on public transport all had to be commissioned, designed, and manufactured in record time. This could only occur because there were already established processes, supply chains, and manufacturers in place.

Face masks

Over the last year, most of us will have become used to wearing a facemask to carry out routine tasks such as going to the supermarket. We may have a packet of them on the dashboard of our car, or sitting on a hall-table next to the front door. All of the scientific evidence is clear, – facemasks have reduced infection rates and saved lives. And most of them have been made using plastics.

The numbers are staggering. A recent study estimated that the world now uses 129 billion face masks globally every month – that is an astonishing 3 million masks a minute.

There are, of course, real environmental challenges around this, particularly as most facemasks are disposable, at just the time when there is a push to reduce the use of single use plastics. But the reality is, that these masks have helped keep infection rates down and stopped our NHS becoming overwhelmed.

Vaccine production

When the vaccine was being rolled out over the summer, one of the key pieces of kit that made manufacture possible were bioreactors. These are effectively giant, sterile plastic bags. These bags, which hold up to 2000 litres are the place where vaccine cells are grown. Whether your own jab was Moderna, AstraZeneca, or Pfizer, it will have started life inside one of these large, sterile plastic bags. Indeed, once of the initial challenges of developing vaccine at scale was a global shortage of bioreactors.

It is not just bioreactors that are needed to manufacture vaccines. The process also depends on ‘single use assemblies’, – plastic filters and pipes that are used in many biological processes, but which as the name suggests, can only be used once.

At ENL, we are proud to provide components for firms across the UK’s medical sector. The COVID pandemic reminds us that plastic manufacturing firms like ENL are part of the critical national infrastructure that ensures the UK’s scientists have the vital equipment that they need to save lives.


As the race to develop vaccines was taking place, across the world plastic manufacturers were working with governments to rapidly accelerate the production of syringes. Orders were placed for tens of millions of syringes in the UK alone, before it was even known if a vaccine would be approved.

After all, what use are effective vaccines without the delivery mechanism to get it into people’s arms? Many modern vaccines are ‘pre-filled’ into plastic syringes for use, but the volume and pace required to respond to COVID made this impossible Instead, the vaccines were distributed in sterile glass phials from which plastic syringes were then filled.


Finally, plastics manufacturers have been at the heart of the consumer shift from the high-street to online. This has led to a boom in UK logistics and transport which has meant that more packaging material has been needed to make sure that goods arrive safely at their destination. Again, it has been the plastics industry at the forefront of this growth, ensuring that materials are available for logistics firms to transport all of those online purchases safely and securely.

Although lockdown has eased, and vaccinations have provided protection, COVID remains part of the new reality. The Prime Minister himself has recently stopped talking about “defeating COVID”, and has instead acknowledged that Britain will have to “learn to live with this virus.”

This means that plastic manufacturers such as ENL Group, will have to continue to work with partners, customers, and government, to make sure that we have the equipment and materials required. It is a job that we stand ready to do.

About ENL Group

ENL Group is based in Portsmouth, UK and Veľké Kostoľany, Slovakia. Established in 1958, we have been servicing UK-based and European companies for decades. Working with a secure supply chain, ENL provides quality components for quality-driven customers – with full certification for all of our products and quality checking at every stage.

Operating 24/7, we design, manufacture and deliver critical components for our customers across the UK and Europe.

Contact Us for more information about ENL and how we can help your business.