Best of 2019: Affordable prosthetics made from recycled plastic waste
Originally published on 11 January
The initiative Project Circleg aims to fight the world’s plastic pollution as well as help people in need of prostheses by producing low cost lower-limb prosthetics made from recycled plastic.
The prosthetic leg system is designed for the needs and circumstances of amputees in less developed countries. These countries often lack proper healthcare, have high traffic or armed conflicts, causing a high demand for prosthetic limbs.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that 72% of the annually produced plastic packaging worldwide ends up in nature or on landfills, landfills that are often found in less developed countries. By using locally available plastic waste, the Circleg prosthesis can reduce material cost with up to 50%.
The first prototype of the leg was developed as part of a bachelor degree industrial design at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland. In March 2018, Project Circleg’s co-founders Fabian Engel and Simon Oschwald went on a research trip to Kenya for insights into the country’s existing recycling industries as well as to discuss the needs and wishes of amputees for their prosthetics.
“We aim at bringing to market affordable, high-functional prosthetics for patients of all levels of mobility and with a low to medium income,” the founders state.
The holistic approach of Project Circleg is based on the circular economy. Post-consumer plastic waste is used as an inexpensive resource for the production of prosthetics to simultaneously satisfy a social demand and tackle an environmental issue. Additionally, by recycling plastic waste and producing locally, the Circleg prosthetic solution creates jobs in the country and secures the livelihood for local people and their families.
The prosthetics are made from polypropylene (PP) post-consumer waste, reinforced with glass fibres. The composite material meets the requirements of a lower-limb prosthetics.
Project Circleg aims to develop and supply all components of a complete prosthesis for lower-limb amputees around the world. The limb is especially designed for people in less developed countries. It can be adjusted to the user’s body and the modular design allows for the use of customised colours.
The knee joint is equipped with a mechanism that swings the leg forward while walking, in order to avoid tripping. A protection cap protects the knee against dirt when kneeling. The ankle joint allows for a squatting position, often necessary for using the toilet in the less developed countries.
All parts of the limbs are manufactured by injection moulding or extrusion. The production process is based on existing manufacturing and recycling processes in less developed countries.
Photos: Project Circleg