We have a huge plastic waste problem at the moment, but there are efforts to make use of this throw-away resource – including using trash collected from canals to make office furniture, creating portable speakers out of plastic that can't be recycled and forming temporary shelters for use at music festivals. The latest addition to the list uses waste plastic water bottles to make sockets for prosthetic limbs.
Dr. K Kandan from De Montfort University Leicester discovered that if he ground up plastic water bottle waste, the resulting material could be spun into polyester yarns which could then be heated and molded into prosthetic sockets. Where such things might currently cost around £5,000 (approx. US$6,000) each at the high quality end, those made from plastic waste can be produced for as little as £10 ($12) apiece.
"There are so many people in developing countries who would really benefit from quality artificial limbs but unfortunately cannot afford them," said Dr. Kandan, who worked with a rehabilitation group for the disabled in India, and experts from the Malaviya National Institute of Technology, the University of Salford, University of Southampton and University of Strathclyde on the project. The aim of this project was to identify cheaper materials that we could use to help these people, and that's what we have done."
After spinning up a couple of examples, Dr. Kandan went to India to try them out on a patient who had his leg amputated above the knee, and another who has his leg amputated below the knee.
"Both patients were really impressed – they said the prosthetic was lightweight and easy to walk with, and that it allowed air to flow to the rest of their leg, which is ideal for the hot climate in India," reported Dr. Kandan.
The next phase of the project is to trial the design on larger groups of people, and in different countries, but he has high hopes that this project will be a game-changer for amputees.
"Our work will help restore mobility to the millions of amputees in low- and middle-income countries and will undoubtedly have a major positive impact on public health and welfare," he said.
According to ewatlas