Indian Designer Turns PPE Plastic Scrap into Bedrolls

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 29, 2021 ( News) – The 2021 World Economic Forum wrapped today in Davos after five days of discussions focused on the coronavirus pandemic, affordable medical care, net-zero emissions, digital technology and th

Fashion designer Laksmi Menon, founder of Pure Living, readies bedrolls for free distribution to First Line Treatment Centres and homeless shelters in the Indian state of Kerala.
2020 (Photo courtesy World Economic Forum via Shayya Facebook Page) Posted for media use

Caption: Fashion designer Laksmi Menon, founder of Pure Living, with the bedrolls she designed using plastic waste from the manufacture of personal protective equipment. 2020 (Photo courtesy Laksmi Menon via Facebook) Posted for media use

e future of work. Amid the big panels on vaccines, climate and finance, a small project from India shows how compassion has opened an innovative way to handle the tons of plastic waste the virus has left across the world.

Soaring use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as billions of disposable face masks, gloves, and gowns by healthcare workers everywhere has fueled concern about plastic pollution. Data from the United Nations suggests that about 75 percent of plastic PPE waste related to COVID-19 will end up in landfills or in the sea.

Indian fashion designer Lakshmi Menon got her transformative idea after seeing children sleeping on the road, and then seeing heaps of waste fabric in a friend’s fashion house.

“Through some of my friends, I got to know that units making PPE are struggling to dispose of the waste generated,” Menon told Indian digital news platform, “The News Minute.”

“I was already in the process of making bedrolls with cloth at that time, but then this idea of making similar bedrolls using PPE scrap struck me,” said Memon, who started the Pure Living Foundation, which is dedicated to finding sustainable livelihood solutions and building social awareness about the importance of green living.

The Pure Living Foundation’s company Shayya, which means bed in Sanskrit, uses the waste scraps from India’s PPE factories and braids them together to make the lightweight, cheap and hygienic bedrolls. The PPE bedroll is weighs in at only 2.5 to 5kg, no more than 11 pounds.

After making braids from the scrap pieces by hand, the braids are joined together in a mat-like shape, using no needles or thread. Thirty-five meters (114 feet) of plastic braids are required to create one bedroll.

Designer Laksmi Menon, center, has put Kerala women to work making bedrolls out of plastic trimmings from PPE production, 2020 (Photo courtesy Shayya via Facebook)
Posted for media use

As well as providing work for local people, the project helps the environment by reusing waste that would otherwise be thrown out as garbage.

The PPE off-cuts are also “cleaner, softer and more dust-free than fabric scraps,” Menon explains.

Bedrolls made from the PPE scraps are cheap, hygienic and lightweight. Now Menon supplies them free of cost for use in Kerala’s several hundred COVID-19 First Line Treatment Centres and homeless shelters.

Mattresses were in short supply in July 2020 when the Indian state of Kerala ordered the opening of the 50-bed COVID care centers. The Shayya bedrolls were an ideal solution, being both cheaper and easier to disinfect than regular mattresses used in treatment centres, Menon says.

There is an urgent need for bedrolls across India. Menon believes that “everyone deserves a good night’s sleep” and so she also supplies the bedrolls to homeless people and shelter homes.

India is the world’s second-largest PPE manufacturer, with more than 1,000 manufacturers producing 4.5 million pieces a day, according to “The Guardian” newspaper.

During the pandemic, the urgent need for personal protective equipment to keep workers safe has driven increased plastic pollution. But that’s not the only reason for the masses of plastic waste produced to cope with the pandemic.

As lockdowns took effect across the world to slow the spread of COVID-19, people stayed home and the global demand for petroleum collapsed. As a result, oil prices plummeted, making the manufacture of virgin plastics from fossil fuels less expensive than recycling.

The World Health Organization has requested a 40 percent escalation of disposable PPE production. If the global population adheres to a standard of one disposable face mask per day after lockdowns end, the pandemic could result in a monthly global consumption and waste of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves, according to research from the Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies & Department of Chemistry at Portugal’s University of Aveiro published in September 2020.

In England alone, 2.3 billion items of single-use PPE were distributed to health and social care services between February and July 2020, according to a report in the “British Medical Journal.”

In response to high PPE demand among the general public, health care workers and service workers, single-use face mask production in China soared to 116 million a day in February 2020, about 12 times the usual quantity.

Hospitals in Wuhan, the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, produced more than 240 tons of single-use plastic-based medical waste per day at the peak of the pandemic, six times more than the daily average before the pandemic occurred.

If the increases observed in Wuhan hold true elsewhere, the United States could generate an entire year’s worth of medical waste in just two months. But if other countries follow Memon’s lead, India’s little Shayya bedroll project could change that big equation quickly.

By Sunny Lewis for Maximpact

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