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Smart plastic scrap solutions save lives

Machines created by European start-up Precious Plastic are meeting a new and urgent demand: recycling plastic into personal protective equipment (PPE) to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Dutch inventor and Precious Plastic ceo Dave Hakkens is proud to see colleagues, designers and producers in Germany, Spain, Greece, Austria and Switzerland using his company’s injection moulding machines to make items needed by health care workers. The technical details have been posted online as open source so the technique can be easily copied.

Much faster than 3D printing

Initially, Precious Plastic La Safor and Precious Plastic Gran Canaria started making and sharing designs for visors that sit on the forehead and hold plastic shields over the wearer’s face. ‘Our workspace in Gran Canaria was requested to provide more than 3 000 visors for the government, hospitals and private sector,’ says Precious Plastics member Rory Dickens, who co-founded UK nonprofit Recycle Rebuild. ‘Our injection moulding machines can manufacture PPE 75 times faster than a 3D printer.’

The Gran Canaria workshop is also making prototype facemasks for ventilator machines in intensive care units. ‘No official body has approved our designs for medical use at this time although several hospitals – including those in Spain – are currently using them,’ Dickens adds.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Kunststoffschmiede plastic recycling workshop is using its machines to make at least 20 000 visors for the Dresden area. Project partner Plasticpreneur, located in Austria, says it has gone into ‘mass production’.

These shields protect the wearer from being spattered by infectious droplets and help to keep their facemasks dry. Medical-grade N95 or FFP2 masks must be replaced if they get wet but they are in short supply around the world.

Don’t touch

Greek company Alumoulds, which make moulds for Precious Plastic machines, is working with Precious Plastic Leman in Switzerland to make hands-free door handles. The companies point out that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for days and people can be infected by touching a door handle and then touching their mouth or eyes. So doors opened without hands can prevent the spread of infection.

Hygiene is key in such sensitive circumstances. ‘To make the items, the plastic is cleaned and then heated to over 200 degrees Celsius which sterilises the plastic,’ Dickens explains.

Injected items also benefit from not being porous as 3D printed counterparts are. This means bacteria and viruses cannot ‘hide’ inside the plastic.

‘Covid-19 has been proven to last up to nine days on the surface of plastic items,’ Dickens observes. As a result, infection control guidelines state that PPEmust be disposed of after use. ‘However, as long as the items can be disinfected, I see no reason why they would need to be incinerated,’ Dickens argues. ‘Instead, they could be cleaned, shredded and recycled into one of Precious Plastics other open source products.’

Machine used to create recycled plastic face shields.

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