Greener PPE: Inventors tackle Covid-19 plastic waste


Soccer Football - World Cup - Asia Qualifiers - Second Round - Group A - Guam v China - Suzhou Olympic Sports Center, Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China - May 30, 2021. Members of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carry footballs before the match. [Reuters]

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 landfills, 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, it becomes a never-ending cycle.”

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.

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