Inventors tackle plastic waste mountain

Appalled by the tons of plastic trash generated by the pandemic, entrepreneurs are developing reusable PPE and turning single-use masks into everything from bricks to toolboxes.

28 July 2021 | Economics

If everything is thrown away it will create more disease, so it becomes a never-ending cycle. - Tamara Chayo, Co-founder: MEDU Protection

Emma Batha - From surgical masks and gloves to disposable hospital gowns and aprons, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a mountain of plastic medical waste that is polluting the land and sea – alarming doctors and environmentalists alike.

One young entrepreneur in Mexico has now invented a range of reusable PPE (personal protective equipment) she hopes will stop tonnes of single-use medical wear ending up in landfill, incinerators and waterways – and save hospitals a fortune.

Tamara Chayo said disposable PPE not only caused environmental damage, but could spread the virus which survives up to three days on plastics – a particular concern in countries where medical waste management is poor.

"Most of my family are doctors and nurses. They think, ok, I'm saving humans, but I'm not saving the planet," Chayo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"And if everything is thrown away it will create more disease, so it becomes a never-ending cycle."

SUSTAINABLE

Chayo, a 21-year-old chemical engineering student, co-founded MEDU Protection in mid-2020 to develop a sustainable suit to protect health professionals treating Covid-19 patients at a time when PPE was in short supply.

The garments are made from a fabric similar to the coating used on surfaces in viral research laboratories.

Chayo says a doctor can use four disposable gowns a day whereas her PPE can be worn all day and washed 50 times without losing its protective properties - meaning each garment saves 200 plastic items from landfills and incinerators.

"I'm really excited about this," said Chayo, many of whose family members have been working on the COVID-19 frontline.

"We're not just making medical apparel, we want to create a movement for a greener medical industry."

'PLANET-SAVING'

MEDU's garments are embedded with QR technology which informs health workers, via a smart phone app, how many times an item has been washed.

After 50 wears the PPE is returned to MEDU which disinfects it and converts it into cotton scrubs and bags for packaging its products.

Chayo, who plans to expand to the United States and France, estimated reusable medical apparel could slash hospital PPE spending by 90%.

Approximately 129 billion disposable masks, mostly made from plastic microfibres, and 65 billion disposable gloves have been used every month during the pandemic, according to a study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The United Nations estimates about 75% of plastic generated by the pandemic - including medical waste and packaging from home deliveries during lockdowns - will likely end up in landfills or the sea.

The production of plastic which uses fossil fuels as a base material - and its incineration when discarded - is also a significant driver of climate change.

Tom Dawson, founder of Revolution-ZERO which has developed a range of "planet-saving PPE" in Britain, said the pandemic had reversed recent progress on cutting plastic use.

While there was "phenomenal" interest in reusable PPE, he said there were obstacles to its adoption.

When the pandemic struck many governments stockpiled disposable PPE which they are supplying free, meaning hospitals have no economic incentive to buy reusable products.

Another problem is the lack of clinical grade laundries which have disappeared as hospitals switched to disposable PPE.

MASKS INTO BRICKS

From Britain to India, entrepreneurs are also looking at how to recycle plastic PPE - turning it into everything from toolboxes to bricks.

In Wales, Thermal Compaction Group (TCG) makes machines about the size of a large American fridge that melt down hospital gowns, masks, hairnets, tray wraps and ward curtains into plastic bricks.

The plastic can be used to manufacture anything from school chairs to 3D printer filament and yarn for clothing.

"It takes what's designated as a single-use product and actually turns it into a multi-use product," said TCG managing director Mat Rapson.

The temperature inside TCG's Sterimelt and Curtainmelt machines exceeds 300 degrees Celsius, killing Covid-19 and other pathogens.

Five UK hospitals have begun using the machines with more placing orders. TCG is also liaising with distributors in Canada, Australia and Hungary among other countries.

About 6 500kg of CO2 emissions are saved for every 10,000kg of material processed, Rapson said – mostly due to savings on transporting and incinerating the waste.

RECYCLE MAN

In India, entrepreneur Binish Desai is turning PPE into grey bricks and construction panels to build low-cost housing and schools.

Desai, 27, who started making bricks from waste as a teenager, has invented a new brick made from disinfected and shredded masks and other PPE mixed with paper mill waste and binder.

The entrepreneur, nicknamed "The Recycle Man of India", said the bricks were three times stronger than earth bricks, twice the size and almost half the cost.

Some of the masks are collected from "eco-bins" installed in hospitals, restaurants and other public places.

Desai, whose story is being turned into a film by a major Indian production company, is looking to expand to Britain, the United States, Canada and Brazil.

The entrepreneur, who founded Eco-Eclectic Technologies in 2016, initially plans to export his bricks to Brazil, but eventually wants to build a plant there to process local waste.

"We believe in micro social enterprise so instead of having one big factory we have multiple factories across India so we create local jobs as well as recycle local waste," he said.

Desai believes India - with its tradition of recycling and a less established throwaway culture than many Western countries - can become a global leader in zero waste technology.

"Attitudes are changing – absolutely," he said. "The pandemic has made us far more aware of how much waste we're generating and that it's not sustainable." – Nampa/Reuters

Similar News

 

Ongos Valley, Telecom Namibia sign MoU

3 hours ago | Economics

PHILLEPUS UUSIKUOngos Valley Development signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Telecom Namibia (TN) last week to commemorate their journey towards developing a smart city.In...

Zim unvaccinated employees barred from work

3 hours ago | Economics

Zimbabwe bar unvaccinated government workers from reporting for duty as part of efforts to fight Covid-19, an official circular showed.The southern African country has, as...

South Africa not authorising Russian vaccine

3 hours ago | Economics

South Africa's drugs regulator said on Monday that it was not approving an emergency use application for Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 shot for now, citing...

No fear of inflation

3 hours ago | Economics

Global finance officials are worried about rising inflation pressures but there it is little fear that it will become a "runaway train," IMF chief Kristalina...

Vehicle prices locally on a rising trend

1 day - 19 October 2021 | Economics

PHILLEPUS UUSIKUGlobal shipping constraints and reduced production, resulting in delayed imports, are some of the factors that are driving up vehicle prices in Namibia.According to...

Save the economy by getting vaccinated

1 day - 19 October 2021 | Economics

STAFF REPORTERSpeakers at the ‘Pandenomics’ webinar recently hosted by Nedbank Namibia and Simonis Storm, and supported by Nedbank Business Banking and Nedbank Private Wealth, have...

Public transport on a standstill in Eswatini

1 day - 19 October 2021 | Economics

Public transport remained at a standstill Sunday in Eswatini, in the latest protest against Africa's last absolute monarchy, rocked by a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations.Private...

South Africa weighs need to save climate

1 day - 19 October 2021 | Economics

SOFIA CHRISTENSEN AND GRIFFIN SHEAWhen you fly into Johannesburg, solar panels seem to gleam everywhere, from the roofs of mansions and small township homes alike.But...

Blue Economy policy consultations on the go

1 day - 19 October 2021 | Economics

[email protected] BAY Consultative workshops with various stakeholders for the development of Namibia's sustainable Blue Economy policy are taking place across the country.The workshops are hosted...

The cost of living slightly under control

2 days ago - 18 October 2021 | Economics

PHILLEPUS UUSIKUDespite there being global supply constraints of goods, which is likely to fuel inflation, demand-pull inflationary pressures remain weak in Namibia due to consumers...

Latest News

Govt’s phone spying edges closer

3 hours ago | Technology

MATHIAS HAUFIKU and JEMIMA BEUKES WINDHOEKGovernment is pushing ahead with plans to get a...

Judge chastises ‘homophobic’ home affairs...

3 hours ago | Justice

JANA-MARI SMITH WINDHOEKNamibian High Court judge Thomas Masuku has taken aim at the home affairs ministry’s discrimination against same-sex couples.In his...

Abort abortion law, ministry says

3 hours ago | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES WINDHOEKThe Abortion and Sterilisation Act 2 of 1975 is obsolete and must be discarded for more comprehensive legislation that...

Zim unvaccinated employees barred from...

3 hours ago | Economics

Zimbabwe bar unvaccinated government workers from reporting for duty as part of efforts to fight Covid-19, an official circular showed.The southern African country has, as...

South Africa not authorising Russian...

3 hours ago | Economics

South Africa's drugs regulator said on Monday that it was not approving an emergency use application for Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 shot for now, citing...

EDITORIAL: Men lost in abortion...

3 hours ago | Opinion

The abortion debate limped on yesterday, and perhaps recorded a major breakthrough when the ministry of health admitted that it’s time the country legalised the...

No fear of inflation

3 hours ago | Economics

Global finance officials are worried about rising inflation pressures but there it is little fear that it will become a "runaway train," IMF chief Kristalina...

MTC budgets N$12m to incentivise...

3 hours ago | Health

ESTER KAMATI WINDHOEKTelecommunications giant MTC yesterday launched its new VaxUp081 campaign, which is aimed...

Tweya raps agri ministry over...

3 hours ago | Ministries

OGONE TLHAGE WINDHOEKFormer trade minister and chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources Tjekero Tweya this week tore into the...

Load More