MediFlex: Human-Centred Design for Sustainable PPE

Lead Participant: Agrifood X Limited

Abstract

**This project addresses an identified environmental, healthcare and commercial demand for sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic personal protective equipment (PPE).** As part of the UK's COVID-19 response, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) PPE strategy identifies a need for an additional 5 billion PPE items to address the increased demands from health and social care providers, however, only 70% will be produced in the UK. The DHSC strategy has also identified the need for innovative and sustainable PPE as well as improved designs to address ill-fitting/uncomfortable items.

Oil-derived plastics used for PPE in clinical settings negatively impact the environment when incinerated due to the release of fossil carbon, contributing to global warming. If disposed of incorrectly, they do not biodegrade leading to contamination of land and sea with unacceptable effects on wildlife and the food supply chain.

**The aim of the project is to address these issues through the development of sustainable bioplastic films to replace or reduce current oil-based plastic PPE usage.**

Bioplastics derived from agri-food by-products have been used to produce materials that include flexible films. These materials can replace existing single-use plastics used as PPE that are used in large quantities in non-surgical situations, for example aprons/clinical waste bags. This project builds on recent advances in processing techniques for agri-food by-products (AFBPs), enabling the manufacture of commercially usable flexible films. AFBPs are available in the UK in large quantities (\>1.6 million tonnes per year), however, they are generally not exploited and frequently disposed to landfill or incinerated. For example, 45,000 tonnes of apple pomace are produced each year as a by-product of juice or cider production. The pomace can be further processed to produce flexible films, whilst blending with other AFBP-derived materials to produce novel features e.g. anti-microbial activity.

To address issues relating to PPE performance and usability, a Human-Centred Design (HCD) approach will be used to establish the specifications and user requirements for PPE materials based on sustainable bio-based alternatives.

HCD methods will be used to enhance and encourage the use of bioplastic films for PPE in the form of a protective apron. The project activities include:

(i)Evaluation of stakeholder behaviour with respect to current PPE based on flexible films through interviews;

(ii)Establishing human-centred features and documenting key design specifications that will encourage the uptake of novel flexible bioplastics for widespread adoption;

(iii)Evaluation of user-expectations such as comfort and usability of the product, as well as requisite performance characteristics including physical properties, mechanical, durability, shelf-life and end-of-life treatment.

The project focuses on production of flexible bioplastics for which there is a substantial market need. Successful production of sustainable materials for single-use PPE applications will reduce imports, grow the UK economy and create employment opportunities, whilst ensuring security of supply.

Additional benefits include providing additional income for agricultural growers and reducing the quantity of waste sent to landfill. The UK's progress towards achievement of net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2040 will also be supported.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Agrifood X Limited £36,335 £ 29,068
 

Participant

Brunel University London, Uxbridge £19,427 £ 19,427
Cellular Systems (Grantham) Limited, Nottingham, United Kingdom £25,574 £ 20,459
Biopower Technologies Limited, Milton Keynes £10,288 £ 8,230

Publications

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