Ph.D. student turns recycled plastic into face shields for Ugandan …

In normal times, Takataka Plastics would be working on scaling up our machines to transform plastic waste into construction materials and conducting community outreach programs to educate individuals about proper waste management practices in Gulu. However, due to the unforeseen challenges surrounding COVID-19, they are investing most of our time in supporting their community. We are making face shields for healthcare workers and promoting social distancing in public places among other initiatives to help Gulu fight COVID-19.

Their goal for 2020 is to scale up their recycling operation to create 30 local jobs and keep 9 tons of plastic waste per month from being burned in Gulu. They have been making wall tiles to sell to hardware shops and contractors, but when COVID-19 hit Uganda, They wondered asked what they could do to help their community.

In the wake of COVID-19 in Uganda, businesses had to be put on hold following directives by the government. The directives restricted any business besides those within the food industry and health care from being operational. The impact has also been felt on institutions and organizations.

The shutdown of such key stakeholders in their endeavor to recycle more than 9 tons of plastic waste in Gulu has to a great extent affected our day to day operations. However, the team has dynamically devised ways to turn their resources and expertise towards helping their community by providing protective face shields to front line medical workers as well as assisting in other community initiatives.

Amidst all the strategies and measures set by the government, there still exists challenges especially within the local community and the health sector. Many Ugandans still lack concrete knowledge about COVID-19, especially how important the preventive measures are in reducing the risk of transmission. Furthermore the community lacks adequate resources to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Many households cannot afford hand washing facilities.

At the main market for example, hand washing points have been set up by the local government. However, due to limited knowledge about the importance of social distancing, people are overcrowded at the washing points. Takataka Plastics in collaboration with Hashtag Gulu devised a simple way to improve on social distancing at the market. We painted markings for people to stand in line at a safe distance from one another while waiting for the washing station. They said that their initial focus was on the main market because it hosts more than 3000 people in Gulu municipality every day.

Medical workers worldwide rely on masks to protect them. However, hospitals and health clinics in Uganda are woefully under-equipped to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. There is very little protective equipment for the medical staff. Doctors and nurses are asking for face shields, but they are not available in most hospitals. Only well-financed, private hospitals can afford them; the government-run hospitals and clinics do not have any protective face shields.

After identifying this gap, we embarked on research and design of face shields. Their face shield prototype has already been appreciated by both the health workers and other stakeholders. They have presented some of the face shields to the District Health Office and a local clinic for trials and have received extremely positive feedback. One doctor even said he needs them in his hospital tomorrow.

Through the power of social media, Plasticpreneur, a social enterprise in Austria, saw their work and shared with us the current developments they have in production of face shields. The solution they presented is vital in not only production of face shields but also experimentation with different medical products that they are exploring. They are currently working towards shipping a machine that will see a great reduction in the cost of producing the shields for the health workers.