Turning plastic waste into PPE

Thailand is tackling two problems at one time by using plastic waste to make personal protective equipment, or PPE, for medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus response, the minister of public health said last week.

A Thai company is manufacturing isolation gowns made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), which it takes from recycled plastic bottles. Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul said the ministry would hand out 44,000 gowns by the end of this month, and more after that to meet demand. The gowns can be used 20 times and cost just $15.57 each.

“The amazing thing about these gowns is that local manufacturers can produce them at a reasonable cost to meet internationally acceptable standards,” Anutin said.

Imported gowns made of other materials can initially cost less, Anutin said, but they cannot be reused, making them ultimately more expensive. Pongsak AssakIul, of the Thailand Textile Institute, said the country now has a chance to become a leader in manufacturing textiles for PPE.

At the onset of the epidemic, PPE was in short supply in Thailand and many countries. The equipment is critical for health care workers to protect themselves from the Covid-19 virus, which is highly contagious and whose symptoms can be severe and lead to death. Pongsak said potential clients from the United States and Europe have shown interest in purchasing the gowns.

Aside from the coronavirus, Thailand is trying to counter a crisis in plastic waste. The government has banned many single-use plastic items, such as plastic bags, and has been making progress in reducing plastic waste.

Observers have pointed out, however, that with many people ordering food deliveries during the stay-at-home period because of the pandemic, plastic usage has soared again, but hopefully will decline when the public health crisis is over.

Photo courtesy of https://pr.moph.go.th/?url=pr/detail/2/04/142579/