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PPE and sustainability: How can we reduce the environmental impact of protective gear?

How can PPE sustainability ensured?How can the environmental impact due to the PPE reduced?

PPE and sustainability

PPE or Personal Protective Equipment is one of the essential mainstays in various industries like manufacturing, healthcare, firefighting, and construction. PPEs are considered the last line of defense against hazards like toxic materials, pathogens, and other risky materials and situations. But as humans are becoming more concerned about the environment combined with the widespread use of PPEs, there has been an increase in the environmental impact of PPE. Even the awareness related to PPE’s environmental impact is increasing. The impact includes increasing issues like soil pollution, water pollution, land pollution, air pollution, and resource depletion. The article talks about the different ways of reducing the environmental impact of PPE.

What is the environmental impact of PPE?

Air Pollution: 

While many assume that PPE production doesn’t contribute to air pollution, the use of fossil fuels in the PPE industry indirectly causes air pollution due to the release of air pollutants.

Land and Plastic Pollution:

PPE disposal contributes to plastic accumulation and thus leads to land pollution. Another major factor is improper disposal which can be avoided just by creating awareness. The PPE which can be recycled may also end up in a landfill causing land pollution. It is important to note that many materials used in PPE manufacturing take centuries to degrade naturally. 

Water Pollution and Depletion

PPE manufacturing causes water pollution directly as well as indirectly. The raw materials used for PPE manufacturing result in water pollution by leaching and chemical contamination. The PPE manufacturing process often involves heavy use of water which causes the depletion of water resources.

What is the current situation between PPE and sustainability?

PPE and sustainability

After the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many questions raised about the sustainability of PPE. It is considered one of the primary concerns as there has been an increase in PPE demand. The PPE industry has taken it into cognizance and has been investing heavily for better sustainability in the PPE industry. The improvement in the sustainability of PPE is only possible through the introduction of advanced materials and modern ways of PPE manufacturing. Consider going through our article on the future of PPE to know more about the predictions of the PPE industry for the next decade. For sustainable PPE a better design, effective manufacturing, recycling, reuse, and proper disposal are required. It reduces the environmental impact caused by the PPE ecosystem. 

Currently, the PPE industry is taking massive strides to become sustainable. Effective and sustainable PPE manufacturing uses advanced materials that are biodegradable and environment-friendly. The process used for PPE manufacturing involves modern techniques like lean manufacturing tech, which highly reduce the waste generated or utilize the resources better. Moreover, a lot of efforts are taken to reuse and recycle PPE and raw materials used for its manufacture.

One area where the PPE industry has achieved success in sustainability is the packaging of PPE. Many manufacturers have implemented eco-friendly packaging techniques that have reduced the environmental impact of the PPE industry. The PPE industry has also taken efforts to optimize its supply chain to tackle emissions due to logistics. Apart from the PPE industry, many government bodies, organizations, and facilities have actively engaged individuals in the reuse & recycle of PPEs.

How can we reduce the environmental impact of protective gear?

  • Use of renewable energy sources - 

  • PPE industries can shift to renewable energy sources reducing their dependency on conventional non-renewable energy sources to reduce their carbon footprint, thus reducing the environmental impact. 

  • Sustainable design and manufacturing -

  • PPE and sustainability

    PPE industries can manufacture PPEs with a sustainable design that is easy to manufacture (with reduced waste generation). The design should be such that the reuse and recycling of the PPEs are easier. Even the use of advanced biodegradable materials for PPE manufacturing is highly recommended. The existing packaging should be designed to be eco-friendly.

    Do you want to know more about advanced biodegradable materials used for PPE production? Check out our article on the evolution of PPE technology.

  • Implementation and Spreading awareness about reducing, reusing, and recycling PPE - 

  • End-users like the healthcare industry can intensify the existing implementation of reusing PPE by the adoption of disinfection of reusable PPE (single-use PPE is not considered under it). There are special recycling units that recycle PPE like gloves, safety shoes, and clothing PPE. These units recycle the used PPE as raw materials, and even recycled materials can be used for PPE manufacturing itself.

    Moreover, PPE design should facilitate easier disinfection which will increase the lifespan, thus reducing the waste generated. Use of easily replaceable parts, wherever possible should be done. For example, respiratory PPEs can use replaceable cartridge filters. Even individuals should be encouraged to make use of such PPE that will reduce the environmental impact of PPE. Awareness related to PPE from a recycling point of view must be encouraged, which will help individuals to use and dispose of PPE (for recycling).

    Do you want to know what is the impact of single-use PPE? Check out the blog on sustainable PPE for more details.


    PPE and sustainability

    With the increased demand for PPE post the COVID-19 pandemic, the environmental impact of PPE is under question. Combined with the increased environmental, there is an increased burden to reduce the waste generated due to the PPE industry. Shortly, this will become a vital goal for the PPE industry. To achieve sustainability collaborative efforts of end-users and manufacturers are required. Even policymakers should take note of the waste generated due to PPE and support the PPE industry in improving its sustainability. They should also spread awareness related to PPE recycling by spreading awareness among the users. 

    Focus on the 3Rs - reduce, reuse, and recycle will help achieve sustainability in the PPE industry. PPE industries will be focusing on sustainable manufacturing and design to reduce the environmental impact of PPE. By implementing such strategies and taking individual responsibilities, we can ensure that PPE is designed and manufactured sustainably. It will also ensure that the PPE industry has a lesser environmental impact.