One Man's Plastic is Another Man's Prosthetic

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One Man's Plastic is Another Man's Prosthetic

I harp about plastics. You don’t have to say it, I know I do. It’s all doom and gloom, and million year non-degradable waste with me. I talk about the huge amount of plastic out there, the dangers of it, ways to avoid using it, and I stand by all that, but there is always a positive in every situation. There are ways to treat plastic as a valuable commodity. Today, we are talking about one of those positive outcomes, and it’s about time.

There are 2.1 million people in the United States living with limb loss and that number continues to grow. In the developing world, there are approximately 40 million people who are in need of prosthetic limbs and only 5% of those have any options at all. With new prosthetic legs ranging in price from $5,000 to $50,000, there is no question that cost plays a role in how difficult, if not impossible, it is for some to gain access to often life changing prosthesis. According to Glenn Garrison, director of prosthetics and orthotics at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, “They’re probably in line with a cost of a car.” Some advantageous groups are combating this issue, as well as the plastics problem, by using waste to create cost effective prosthetic limbs for people around the globe.

Project Circleg focuses on creating prosthetics specifically for amputees in less developed countries. By utilizing plastic waste collected from local factories in Kenya, Zurich University graduates, Fabian Engel and Simon Oschwald have created high functioning and affordable lower limb prosthetics. The user is able to kneel, maintain stability in a squatting position, and the knee join moves as the user walks with the use of a swing-back-knee mechanism to avoid tripping. The color is also customizable!

The Million Waves Project is another one of the groups focusing on turning environmental awareness and works into a humanitarian cause focused on helping those in need of prosthetic limbs. This year old, as of Earth Day, organization takes plastic that has been gathered from the ocean and turns it into material that is usable in a 3D printer. Once that is complete, a custom limb can be printed and delivered for approximately $45. That certainly makes things a lot more affordable, and by utilizing their app, anyone can request their product. Affordable and available, that’s key.

Speaking of affordable and available, Bernie Craven, a retired hairdresser of over 40 years, has been using recycled shampoo bottles from his work to develop a method of utilizing the plastic to create prosthetic limbs. After seeing the amount of waste that was created in the daily washing at salons, Mr. Craven decided that he had to take some responsibility and do what he could to help. He is currently working with 38 salons, turning the plastic into filament himself, and then printing. Currently, two children aged 11 and 12 are making use of his prototypes.

With all of these brand new innovators, it’s possible to have a future where prosthetic limbs are affordable, and individuals are able to regain or improve mobility. This is conjunction with cleaning up our plastics problem is a massive win/win!