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A Cork startup offering biodegradable PPE aprons believes “it’s worthwhile changing” the relationship between the healthcare system and the environment.

HaPPE Earth was founded by Dr Mary O’ Riordan and Lisa O’Riordan to offer hospitals an alternative to plastic medical grade aprons.

Dr O’Riordan told Moncrieff they formed the company in response to an increase in plastic pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“HaPPE stands for Health, Agriculture, PPE,” she said.

Dr O’Riordan said healthcare workers can use anywhere between “three and 10” PPE aprons every day.

“One surgeon actually spoke about 27 [apron] changes, so we're talking about a lot of throwaway items,” she said.

“[PPE] is very difficult to recycle and because they're single use, they often go to incineration.

“This is part of a medical practice all over the world... a lot of healthcare waste doesn't actually go to incineration – it goes to landfill.”

These compostable PPE aprons are inspired by “a lot of innovation in agriculture around biofilms”.

“We took some of that technology and ‘bespoked’ it for the medical sector, so that we actually could meet the class one medical device standards,” Dr O’Riordan said.

“Class one is actually relatively simple because it's a simple item... but it has certain parametres that needs the European harmonised standards like stretchability and water and alcohol repellency.

“You have to meet those standards in order for it to be appropriate to wear in a hospital setting.”

While HaPPE aprons might appear more expensive than regular PPE, Dr O’Riordan said they are cheaper to dispose of and cost less in the long run.

“That's why we really wanted to do monitoring of the pure value of the thing,” she said.

“So, the health services can then to go to the budget holder and say this something is worthwhile changing.”

'Great support' Dr O’Riordan said the company has received “great support” from HSE and health workers across the country, as well as support from Enterprise Ireland.

“We've started with the apron and we want to introduce the other pieces of the chain we're currently working on as well,” she said.

Date: 4 October

Posted in News on Oct 04, 2023

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