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COVID-19 PPE dilemma: ‘Saving lives is having a harmful impact on the planet’

Written by on 21 March 2021

The NHS should use more eco-friendly personal protective equipment, academics and medics say.

Researchers say more than one billion single-use disposable masks were used by NHS workers last year, creating vast amounts of plastic waste and posing what they say is “an ethical dilemma in which saving lives now has a harmful impact on the planet”.

Several trials are currently under way, including at the vaccination centre in York, where hundreds of staff and volunteers have vaccinated more than 100,000 people.

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Professor Mike Holmes, a GP and the vaccination centre’s clinical lead, said: “We recognise that we’re using so many pieces of PPE that just get thrown away, so we’re starting to introduce reusable PPE, like these masks, that help the environment. They’re treated with antiseptic and can be washed 40 times.”

Dr Mike Dawson is the founder of Revolution-ZERO, which produces zero-carbon, zero-waste targeted PPE.

He said: “The feedback provided by our colleagues and partners in national and international circular economy networks has been a vital part of Revolution-ZERO’s mission to improve the environmental, social and clinical impact of reusable PPE, leading us to a sustainable, circular vision of produce, use, recycle and regenerate.”

The reusable PPE, including masks, gowns, coveralls, aprons and caps, can be reprocessed between 20 and 100 times.

And the manufacturers say that when the PPE reaches the end of its life-cycle it can be “fully reused through either repurposing for other use cases or products, or taken back through a full recycling process and manufactured into textiles”.

The Department for Health and Social care has already acknowledged the need to use more sustainable products in the NHS.

But climate change experts say this needs to be done quickly, arguing that the potentially high initial outlay would be offset by the long-term benefits, both financially and environmentally.