To have data on how much personal protective equipment is being consumed, thrown out and ending up in landfill at the moment, and then compared to before COVID-19. Also, to have information on how hospitals dispose of used isolation gowns.
PPE Burn Rate
- There are various calculators available that calculate the burn rate of PPE. This rate is based on the number of full boxes of different types of equipment available, and the number of patients in the hospital. It looks at how quickly hospitals are going through equipment.
- Different types of equipment have different consumption rates. The main types of equipment are eye protection, gowns, gloves, face masks, N95 respirators, and other types of respirators and ventilators.
- In the UK, over a billion PPE items were delivered to the public healthcare (NHS) staff in the 53 days between 25 February and 18 April. The figure includes some non-PPE items like body bags, swabs, and detergents, however.
- During the aforementioned period, 132 million masks were delivered to staff, 145 million aprons, 1.2 million gowns, 470 million gloves, for an equivalent of 14 million items per day.
- In France, 45 million masks are used per week.
Global PPE Market and Increased Consumption Compared to 2019
- Last year, the global healthcare personal protective equipment market was valued at USD 5,018.3 million.
- Currently, demand for PPE is higher than stockpile availability. In March this year the WHO called on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40%. That is, a rough estimate of increased consumption due to COVID-19 would be 40% globally. However, locked down and supply chain issues are limiting production.
- China is producing over 116 million masks a day, 12 times its supply prior to the outbreak.
- According to WHO modeling, an estimated 89 million medical masks per month at the moment to respond to the pandemic, globally. "For examination gloves, the figure is up to 76 million, while global demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month."
- In 2019, hospitals and clinics consumed 50% of the total supply of PPE.
- PPE can only be used once. After use, the standard procedure is to discarded using standard infection control precautions. In the UK, PPE waste is typically labelled as infectious or offensive, which means it is burned. The environmental consequences then would be related to adding CO2 to the environment (depending on the burning method) rather than landfill. In the UK, burned waste is contributing to energy production, so the environmental impact is positive there, but that likely isn't the case in other countries.
- In India, for example, waste disposal practices are less regulated or controlled, and "large amounts of used PPE have been found dumped in open spaces of New Delhi and significant volumes stored by workers in the informal sector for potential resale."
- The disposal of consumer masks is a separate issue to hospital PPE use. Some citizens in the US are disposing of gloves and masks in the street.
Proposed next steps:
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Our research so far has addressed some of the goals, but to completely address them we recommend the following briefs: 1) The amount of PPE items in total used in the US per month in 2019 2) The amount of PPE items used in total in the US per month since March this year (our research suggests these figures aren't readily available and will have to be triangulated from other data such as market size, spending, expert predictions, or individual item numbers). For both briefs, where possible (optional), we'll provide a breakdown by item type.
We also suggest a detailed report on the procedures for disposing of PPE in the US, responding to the following questions: 1) What PPE items go to landfill rather than burned 2) For medical waste that is burned, what is the environmental impact (this will vary from hospital to hospital and state to state, but we'll aim to provide a general explanation based on the most common practices).
Alternatively, or in addition, we could estimate or triangulate the total number of masks consumers in the US are going through per month, and provide expert opinions or analysis on the environmental consequences (our initial research suggests there are no precise figures on the proportion being thrown out).