One garbage truck load of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute. That is 1 440 loads per day, or 525 600 loads a year!

This startling statistic was highlighted by Jarryd Swanepoel, the national sales and distribution manager at uvex South Africa, in his presentation Sustainability in a Consumable Driven PPE Industry at the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s 10th Health and Safety Conference.

The conference ran from May 31 to June 1 at Johannesburg’s Gallagher Convention Centre, and uvex South Africa was a gold sponsor of the event.

“Since the start of the Covid pandemic the disposable (single use) split on PPE products has increased dramatically, worsening an already dire PPE-related pollution crisis. We are using more products that are being thrown away on a daily basis,” Swanepoel pointed out.

To illustrate the point, he broke down some numbers for the PPE used by one construction worker. “He needs a helmet, spectacles, a dust mask – maybe two a day – earplugs, clothing/workwear, shoes, and gloves,” Swanepoel explained, adding that this worker would account for about 22 kg of PPE waste per year, or nearly 0,16 m3. “If we look at 100 people, this results in 2,23 tonnes or 16,1 m3.”

Swanepoel went on to note that the domestic automotive sector generates around 9 000 tonnes (or 66 000 m3) of PPE waste per year: “That doesn’t include materials or by-products; that is just PPE.”

Putting these numbers into perspective, he emphasised: “This is equivalent to 8 400 Polo Vivos in weight. In terms of mthat is equivalent to 2 000 twenty-foot containers stacked on each other – which is more than six times higher than Burji Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. This is for one sector, one country, one year – every year!”

All hope isn’t lost, however, as some players within the PPE sphere are doing their part for greater sustainability, with uvex being a stellar example.

“We do see ourselves as leaders in the sustainability topic when it comes to the safety sector,” Swanepoel asserted. “It is something that we have been doing for decades already, not just in the last few years.”

But uvex doesn’t just talk the talk, it does some impressive walking as well. “A great example is our pure-fit spectacle, which is relatively new, competitively-priced, and a one-piece product. There aren’t any hinges or rubbers – no different components – which means it has one production line. This leads to a reduction of 50% in CO2,” said Swanepoel.

He pointed out that there are no interlinks of suppliers for this product: “It goes to one manufacturing site and it comes out as a product. We are not manufacturing different components in different countries, which is reducing the CO2drastically, and it is also 100% recyclable.”

So, some simple and small changes – which don’t affect this product’s form or function – have had a massive effect on its footprint.

Another great example of what uvex is doing on the sustainability front is its “protectingplanet” range. The aim here is to look at everything the company can possibly do to produce a product that has less impact on our environment, while covering people from head to toe.

“One of these products is the uvex i-range, which is largely made out of recycled and bio-based materials,” Swanepoel explained. “The sidearms are made out of castor oil, the hooks and couplings are made out of recycled bottles, and the headband is made out of recycled yarn. The seals are made from leftover materials from the manufacturing process; so it’s an eye protection solution that is responsible as well.”

On the gloves side the company offers its Bamboo Twinflex cut protection model, and it has a helmet that is made out of 30% bioplastic, sugarcane, and recycled plastics.

Swedsafe, one of uvex’s plants in Sweden, is completely CO2 neutral and only uses a champagne glass of water to manufacture 1 000 earplugs.

“Uvex as a group is already using 90% green energy for all of its electricity needs, which is saving 7 000 tonnes of COevery year in its manufacturing processes,” Swanepoel highlighted.

The company has really taken a step in the right direction with its reuse and reduce strategy, and if other manufacturers were to follow suit, the “Polo Vivos” weight and “Burji Khalifas” height could come down and our oceans could at least be rid of a lot of PPE waste.

Neels Nortjé, Saiosh’s CEO, summarised things very eloquently at the end of the conference: “When you, as a conference organiser or organisation like Saiosh, put a conference together and you invite one of your sponsors to come and do a presentation, there is always a fear in the back of your mind that you’re giving the platform and it is going to be used a sales pitch … this was far from that. It was delightful and insightful.”

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