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Plastic Wastes Provide Much Needed Shield for Medics in COVID-19 Fight

A group of environmental activists have chipped in to fill the gap with innovative ideas of producing affordable, yet protective medical face shields for health workers in the region using recycled plastic wastes. Takataka plastics, a social enterprise co-founded by Peter Okwoko is using melted polyethene terephthalate [PET] bottle plastic wastes to produce the shields.
Medical face shields made from plastic wastes in Gulu City. Courtesy photo

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As the country continues to register cases of COVID-19, many health facilities are increasingly facing a shortage of personal protective gear, owing to high demand. The situation has since put lives of front line health workers at risk.

A group of environmental activists have chipped in to fill the gap with innovative ideas of producing affordable, yet protective medical face shields for health workers in the region using recycled plastic wastes. Takataka plastics, a social enterprise co-founded by Peter Okwoko is using melted polyethene terephthalate [PET] bottle plastic wastes to produce the shields.

Okwoko and his team first produced 10 prototype face shields using plastic buckets and soda bottles before sharing the idea on their social media accounts.  A day later according to Okwoko, health officials from Gulu Regional Referral Hospital who read the post contacted them to donate to the COVID-19 isolation unit whose health officials lacked adequate protective gear.

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To meet the growing demands of face shields that started pouring in from health centres across the region, Okwoko says they had to purchase and design modern plastic processing machines that can shred, melt and mould plastics to scale up production.

According to Okwoko, the team begins by collecting plastic water and soda bottles from the various areas within the Municipality before they are sorted, cleaned, shredded and melted to form the face shield frame. Okwoko says 60 per cent of the face shield components are locally made from plastic bottles from the region.

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To date, Takataka plastics have donated more than 2,000 face shields melted from plastic bottles to Kitgum General Hospital, Gulu and Lira Regional Referral Hospitals, Pakwach Health Center IV, Moyo and Lamwo district health departments. Others have also been sold at a subsidised rate of 10,000 Shillings to private institutions and individuals.

The team now plans to scale up recycling of up to nine tones of plastic water, soda and hospital water drip bottles monthly to clear the environment of plastic refuse and produce up to 7,000 face shields for medics. Gulu municipality, which has just been elevated into a city, produces 15 tons of PET plastic wastes every month with almost 80 per cent left uncollected and recycled.   

Yoweri Idiba, the Acting Gulu District Health Officer lauded the team at Takataka Plastics that has helped the health department to fill the shortage of face shields for health workers. He, however, notes that challenges remain with shortages of face masks and hand gloves that the district is facing and called for urgent intervention of the health ministry.

Gulu Regional Referral Hospital has 58 active COVID-19 cases undergoing treatment while at least 102 were admitted at the facility have recovered.

Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the State Minister for Primary Health told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that although the products are already in use, the samples need to be reviewed by the National Drug Authority [NDA] and Uganda Bureau of Standards.

Besides face shield production, Takataka plastics is also recycling plastics wastes into wall tiles and pavers, trash bins and sculptures while offering employment to seven former street children.