Lancaster University: Lancaster research shows plastic-free PPE is a low carbon winner

Research by Lancaster University has shown that a clear PPE visor manufactured by a local company produces 85% less carbon than popular alternatives.

Lancashire based start-up PPECO launched after winning a Innovate UK grant at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company founded by Richard Taylor set out to provide eco-friendly, plastic-free face visors to meet UK PPE demand without ramping up the carbon footprint of the product.

Entirely paper-based, the visors have a corrugated frame and the shield is made from cellulose diacetate, which is a wood pulp-based material.

To validate their environmental claims, PPECO took on a Lancaster University (LU) intern to carry out an independent study.

Lancaster’s Dr Laura Giles, who is completing an MSc. in Environmental Management, carried out a life cycle analysis (LCA) on the product which revealed it had a carbon footprint of 85 percent less than competitor products.

Founder Richard Taylor said: “It’s been a whirlwind from initially winning the grant and delivering the product in six months to the ability to produce up to half a million visors a week.

“My background is industrial design consulting and packaging, and it was from my business connections and experience that I saw the opportunity to create a visor that wasn’t reliant on plastic. I then talked with suppliers and companies I’ve worked with previously and they were keen to get on board.

“We developed what we felt was an environmentally-friendly face visor for a number of reasons; one it has no plastic in it and two it’s also made from recyclable, eco-friendly materials. We were keen to prove the low environmental footprint with facts and figures.”

Through connections at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Richard was introduced to Daresbury Health Tech Cluster, then RTC North and finally Lancaster University’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) who could offer PPECO assistance and support.

The CGE leads on Eco-I Northwest, which offers funded R&D and innovation support to businesses across the UK Northwest. The initiative is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is delivered by six of the region’s universities; Lancaster, Central Lancashire, Cumbria, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester Met.

After meeting with the Lancaster University CGE team, Richard decided to collaborate with the centre and recruit an intern to carry out a life cycle analysis (LCA) on their product.

He said: “Our intern Laura has been really impressive throughout the whole project, she jumped straight into it, mapping the products from raw creation right through to disposal mechanisms and recycling options. Laura delivered above and beyond the brief, benchmarking our product and conducting competitor analysis.”

Dr Giles said: “I’m really passionate about reducing the amount of plastic we use and throw away. The opportunity offered the chance to apply my skills in the real world and carry out useful research for an environmentally conscious company.”

She added: “The focus of my work was to calculate the carbon footprint of the visor’s life cycle and compare with current, highly available face shields used in UK organisations like the NHS.”

To establish a benchmark, research compared popular visors imported from China, other UK produced visors as well as PPECO’s product. Dr Giles’s research demonstrated that PPECO’s product produced 85% less carbon per visors than other alternatives.

Richard said: “PPECO are currently taking on a number of different tenders with NHS England, Scotland and local councils. We think we are in a good position because of Laura’s hard work. Anyone can say they have an environmentally-friendly product, but we have an independent LCA report to verify this. This has given us the confidence to go out and pitch for new business.”

Dr Giles added: “It has been a privilege to work as part of a business that wants to make the world better through their product. Having the chance to verify the environmental credentials of a visor that fulfils health requirements was very rewarding.”

Dr Andy Pickard, Manager at The Centre for Global Eco-Innovation commented: “We face so many challenges at the moment, climate change, waste plastic littering our environment and keeping safe from Covid. This project is remarkable in that it seeks to make a contribution to addressing all these pressing needs. The university wants to work in partnership with companies providing our expertise and research to provide solutions which are good for business, the environment and people, and this is why we are proud to lead the new Eco-I North West programme.”

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