Ugandan Startup Turns Plastic Waste into Face Shields Against COVID-19

The city of Gulu, Uganda, is six hours from the nearest recycling plant, therefore, most of the plastic waste collected in the city ends up in the landfills or is burned. However, now a small facility has started to recycle the plastic waste behind a restaurant in the city’s downtown. Ugandan startup dubbed ‘Takataka Plastics’ has been turning plastic waste into personal protective gear for COVID-19, particularly face shields.

The situation is critical. Many people are working without PPE. That is hampering the fight against COVID-19 because there’s fear among health workers that anytime I touch a patient I might be a COVID patient myself.

Said Dr. Mukuzi Muhereza, secretary-general for the country’s health workers’ body, the Uganda Medical Association.

Ugandan Startup Turns Plastic Waste into COVID-19 Face Shields

Ugandan startup Takataka Plastics is recycling plastic waste into face shields | Image: Takataka Plastics

The operation is led by Peter Okwoko and Paige Balcom. The team has created small machines that separate, shred, and melt the plastic, with a purpose to turn it into construction materials. Most recently, the team is making reusable, locally made plastic face shields for medical workers combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Okwoko, 29, a co-founder of Takataka Plastics, said that the doctor from Gulu regional referral hospital had requested for 10 face shield masks urgently as they didn’t have enough supply of protective equipment and the hospital had just received its first COVID-19 patient. Soon, the hospital staff called asking for more face shields because the previous ones had worked out well for them.

Ugandan Startup Turns Plastic Waste into COVID-19 Face Shields

The company provides face shields to a local hospital as COVID-19 cases spike | Image: Takataka Plastics

In Uganda, medical workers have considered the option of work boycotts to express their resentment against the lack of protective equipment in hospitals, especially after several healthcare workers were confirmed infected with the virus. However, after the production of these face shields started, they have been in very high demand in the local hospitals. There has been a persistent request for the PPE by the hospitals for the safety of their staff.

We’ve designed and built unique equipment for recycling plastic waste because locally built machines are cheaper and easier to maintain and fix if they break. We based our machines on open-source designs but modified them to use locally available parts and fabrication techniques.

Said Paige Balcom.

He further added that in Gulu, 80% of the plastic waste is not responsible disposed of. Instead, most of the plastic waste is burned, releasing noxious carcinogens and toxins and CO2 into the environment. The harmful waste is littered irresponsibly, blocking drains, causing flooding and proving to be a breeding grounds for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Also, it penetrates into the soil and disrupts crop growth or is ingested by the cows. Recycling plastic waste into face shields is helping the company deal with that problem as well.

Prior to the pandemic, the startup collected plastic from the streets, though they now keep collection bins for bottles at restaurants and also gather plastic drip bags from hospitals.

The company has a team of 14 people, 6 of whom are previously homeless. The team’s current priority is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, producing around 100 recycled plastic face shields for health clinics each day. Recycling plastic waste into face shields is a great way to deal with two ordeals at once.

Via: Fast Company 

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