• Bedrolls made from PPE scraps are cheap, hygienic and lightweight.
  • Indian fashion designer Lakshmi Menon started braiding the scraps into mattresses after seeing children sleeping on the road.
  • Now they are being used in COVID care centres and homeless shelters.
  • Soaring PPE use has fuelled concern about plastic pollution.
  • Globally, 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves could be getting used every month.

An innovative project in India is turning the problem of waste personal protective equipment (PPE) into a solution – for sleeping.

The company Shayya – meaning ‘bed’ in Sanskrit – uses waste scraps from India’s PPE factories and braids them together to make lightweight, cheap and hygienic bedrolls.

Indian fashion designer Lakshmi Menon got the idea after seeing children sleeping on the road – and then seeing heaps of waste fabric in a friend’s fashion house.

“Through some of my friends, I got to know that units making PPE are struggling to dispose of the waste generated,” Menon told Indian digital news platform, The News Minute. “I was already in the process of making bedrolls with cloth at that time, but then this idea of making similar bedrolls using PPE scrap struck me.”

Shayya’s PPE beds are easier to disinfect than regular mattresses.
Shayya’s PPE beds are easier to disinfect than regular mattresses.
Image: Shayya

Bedrolls for COVID care centres

Mattresses were in short supply when the Indian state of Kerala ordered the opening of 50-bed COVID care centres. The Shayya bedrolls were an ideal solution, being both cheaper and easier to disinfect than regular mattresses used in treatment centres, Menon says.

The project believes that “everyone deserves a good night’s sleep” and also supplies the bedrolls to homeless people and shelter homes.

As well as providing work for local people, the project helps the environment by reusing waste that would otherwise be thrown out as rubbish.

The PPE off-cuts are also “cleaner, softer and more dust-free than fabric scraps,” Menon adds.

India is the world’s second-largest PPE manufacturer, with more than 1,000 manufacturers producing 4.5 million pieces a day, according to The Guardian.

PPE off-cuts used in Shayya’s bedrolls are cleaner, softer and more dust-free than fabric scraps
PPE off-cuts used in Shayya’s bedrolls are cleaner, softer and more dust-free than fabric scraps
Image: Shayya

PPE plastic waste problem

The huge growth of PPE being used and thrown away daily during the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled concern about plastic pollution.

Data from the United Nations suggests about 75% of plastic PPE waste related to COVID-19 will end up in landfills or the sea.

Globally, 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves could be getting used every month, according to one estimate.

Plastic

What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

In England alone, 2.3 billion items of single-use PPE were distributed to health and social care services between February and July 2020, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.

This is the same amount distributed throughout the whole of 2019. The authors say: “Research into better methods of recycling PPE is ongoing, exploring methods such as feedstock recycling – breaking polymers into smaller molecules that can be used to create new products – or conversion into liquid fuels.”