Recycled plastic turned into face shields and hands-free door handles to fight coronavirus

Recycling initiative Precious Plastic's open-source machines are being used to recycle plastic and turn it into face shields, respirator masks and hands-free door handles to fight coronavirus.

Designers and makers that use the Precious Plastic machines are repurposing them to make items needed by local health care workers.

Groups in Germany, Spain, Greece, Austria and Switzerland are using the open-source machines, which shred and remould old plastic, to make face shields, masks for ventilators and handles that allow the user to open a door without touching it.

Recycled plastic is being turned into visors. Photo by Plasticpreneur

Precious Plastic La Safor and Precious Plastic Gran Canaria have been making and sharing designs for visors that sit on the forehead and hold plastic shields over the wearer's face.

"A Precious Plastic workspace in Gran Canaria was requested to provide over 3,000 face visors for the government, hospitals and private sector," said Precious Plastics member Rory Dickens.

Their injection moulding machines can manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) 75 times faster than a 3D printer explained Dickens, who co-founded UK nonprofit Recycle Rebuild.

Face shields protect the wearer and their mask. Photo by Plasticpreneur

In Germany, the Kunststoffschmiede plastic recycling workshop is using its machines to make 20,000 visors for the Dresden area. Plasticpreneur in Austria, which makes machines for the project, has also gone into mass production.

These face shields protect the wearer from infectious droplets spattering on them and help keep their face masks dry. Medical-grade N95 or FFP2 masks must be replaced if they get wet, but are in short supply all over the world.

Plastic can be used to make replacement ventilator masks. Photo by Precious Plastics Gran Canaria

The Gran Canaria workshop is also prototyping face masks for ventilator machines for use in intensive care units.

"No official body has approved our designs for medical use at this time, however, several hospitals around the world – including those in Spain – are currently using them," said Dickens.

Precious Plastic coronavirus response
Kunststoffschmiede is making 20,000 face shields for the Dresden area

Greek company Alumoulds, which make moulds for Precious Plastic machines, is working with Precious Plastic Leman in Switzerland to make hands-free door handles.

The coronavirus can live on surfaces for days, and people can catch it by touching a door handle and then touching their mouth or eyes. Opening doors without hands helps prevent the spread of infection.

According to Dickens, thePrecious Plastic workspaces are being very careful about hygiene when making the PPE.

"To make the items the plastic is heated to over 200 degrees Celsius which sterilises the plastic and it has previously been cleaned," he explained.

Precious Plastic coronavirus response
Injection moulding is much faster than 3D-printing. Photo by Kunststoffschmiede

"The workspaces follow strict guidelines on how to maintain a clean working environment suitable for making the masks and storing them to avoid contamination," he added.

"The injected items also benefit from not being porous like 3D printed counterparts, ensuring bacteria and viruses can't hide inside the plastic."

Precious Plastic coronavirus response
Hospitals have a dire shortage of personal protective equipment. Photo by Precious Plastic La Safor

Hospitals treating coronavirus patients need this emergency PPE to keep their staff safe, as medical workers are particularly vulnerable to being seriously infected.

Infection control guidelines mean PPE must be disposed of after use, Dickens said Precious Plastic could offer a way to recycle any discarded plastic.

Hands-free door handles help stop the spread of Covid-19. Photo by Alumoulds

"Covid-19 has been proven to last up to nine days on the surface of plastic items," he said.

"However, as long as the items can be disinfected, I see no reason why they would need to be incinerated, and instead could be cleaned, shredded and recycled into one of Precious Plastics other opensource products."

Precious Plastic coronavirus response
Precious Plastic shares the designs for its machines open source. Photo by Precious Plastic La Safor

Founded in 2014 by Dave Jakkens, Precious Plastic shares designs for its machines as open source, so anyone can design and build a recycling system.

Shredder machines take sorted plastic waste and turn it back into useable flakes of plastic. Separate machines, including an injection moulder, an extruder or a rotation moulder, turn the flakes back into useful objects.

Precious Plastic coronavirus response
Face shields help keep medical workers safe. Photo by Precious Plastic La Safor

Other design teams responding to the PPE shortage include MIT in the US, where researchers have invented a flat-pack face shield that can be assembled from a single piece of plastic.

In China, 3D printer company Creality 3D has designed and donated thousands of buckles that hold a face mask in place without hurting the wearer's ears.

Images are courtesy of Precious Plastic.