Two Cork cousins have developed a compostable PPE apron to reduce plastic usage in the healthcare industry.

Dr Mary O’Riordan and Lisa O’Riordan developed their ‘guilt-free’ HaPPE Earth apron in response to an increase in plastic pollution during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had all become aware of the crisis around plastics production and pollution. A truckload of plastic goes into the sea every minute of every day. So it’s a major problem and we feel all sectors need to come together to solve it,” Ms O’Riordan explained.

Billions of single-use plastic PPE aprons are used globally each year.

Made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), they can take up to 50 years to disintegrate.

The new compostable apron is made from proprietary resin and disintegrates in just five weeks.

An LDPE apron beside the compostable HaPPE apron

“The single-use plastic apron is something that’s used all the time and thrown away,” explained Dr O’Riordan. “We were speaking to one surgeon who went through 27 in one session.

“If every one of those is ten grams and each of those, if you count them up – in Ireland, there’s 50 million of them used every year then that’s 500 tonnes of waste in Ireland per year alone.

“So then, you extrapolate that out globally and you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of tonnes year-on-year of single-use plastic apron. And we thought, ‘Look, this has to stop’.”

The HaPPE Earth apron is CE approved for use in healthcare.

The apron was one of 11 winners of the Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) Open Call 2022.

HIHI conducted pilots in hospitals and nursing home setting to assess the usability, durability and acceptability of the HaPPE apron within healthcare settings.

Dr Ruth Lernihan, Chief Executive Helen Donovan, and Niamh Allen of SIVUH

Healthcare workers and catering staff at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH) in Cork were involve in the pilot scheme.

“In 2022, we used 700,000 aprons,” Dr Ruth Lernihan, Director of Nursing at the hospital said. “If you just think of that and the waste stream from non-clinical waste and the environmental impact of that and where that all ends up so we were delighted to get this opportunity.”

Becoming more sustainable is a priority for the hospital.

“Certainly, when you look at PPE, there is a lot of waste,” Helen Donovan, Chief Executive of SIVUH said. “As an elective hospital, we are in an unique position to look at our processes and how we do things.

“The multi-disciplinary team here who were involved in the trial, nurses, catering staff, cleaning staff, each one of those individuals has an unique perspective and contributed to patient care.”

During the pilot staff were asked to provide feedback on the compostable aprons.

“When staff were using them in the pilot, there was fierce results,” Niamh Allen, a Clinical Nurse Manager said. “They found them comfortable, less heavy, less static, more breathable which allowed them to feel more flexible in their daily order of work.”

With positive feedback from healthcare workers in the pilot schemes, Mary and Lisa O’Riordan now hope their compostable PPE apron will ultimately replace the 50 million singe-use plastic aprons used every year in Irish healthcare.

“Every time we see another one of our HaPPE aprons on someone in a healthcare setting, we know that we’ve reduced the use of another plastic one,” Dr O’Riordan said. “For us, that’s less 50 years in landfill.”

“It would be amazing to think that Ireland will be on of the first to pioneer bringing compostable consumables into healthcare,” Lisa O’Riordan said.

Watch the RTE video here