Meet the chemist creating sustainable, gender-inclusive PPE

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A rising concern of the COVID-19 pandemic is the overlay of another: the plastic pandemic. We talked about COVID's impact on plastic in the July edition of our newsletter, but I wanted to learn more about what's being done to solve the single-use PPE problem. So, I found Beau!

Beau Wangtrakuldee is a PhD chemist-turned entrepreneur who is the founder/CEO of AmorSui, a company that provides size-inclusive personal protective equipment (PPE) that is chemical/fire-resistant, antimicrobial and properly fitted for women in STEM fields. But amidst the current pandemic, Beau shifted her business model to support the frontline as well as society and has introduced gender-inclusive and washable PPE that can be managed by mobile application.

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  1. Why did you get into PPE entrepreneurship?

    I experienced firsthand the importance of having functional personal protective equipment (PPE) in protecting the health and wellbeing of the person wearing it. I am a trained PhD organic chemist and had a chemical spill accident where my lab coat did not protect me, when it should have. After the incident, I was looking for protective clothing to provide additional protection for myself and found that there are limited options for functional and size inclusive products, especially for women. This discovery drove me to start AmorSui, which mean “self-love” in Latin, to provide PPE for everyone and offer more options especially in smaller sizes.

  2. What does size inclusivity mean and why is it important?

    A survey of 3,086 women working in emergency services, transport manufacturing, construction, R&D, and nuclear energy reported that only 29% of PPE they wear is designed for women. Additionally, 57% of respondents reported that their PPE sometimes or significantly hampers their work. Specifically, in healthcare the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how ill-fitting PPE could be the difference between life and death. In a real-life example, 77% of NHS workers are female and have to wear gloves, face masks, gowns, and face shields that are too big, making them less effective in providing a complete barrier to the virus. Because of the limited option of PPE for women and individuals with smaller frames, they are risking their lives and have had their performance hindered by ill-fitting PPE.

    (Soapbox note: although we don't have the link to the aforementioned survey, here's a thorough report with similar conclusions.)

  3. What got you interested in adding a sustainability aspect?

    During the COVID-19 crisis, significant plastic waste from disposable PPE (~2M tons produced daily) will end up in landfills, and later in oceans. Each plastic article that follows this route could last over 450 years. Without alternative solutions, the world would have to process these plastics for years to come. For the past three years, AmorSui has assembled a team with expertise in textile engineering, garment manufacturing, and software development, and we came up with sustainable solutions which enable healthcare organizations to adapt washable PPE products and recycle them properly.

  4. Tell me more about your medical gowns that you're working on.

    The easiest probable solution to reduce plastic waste from disposable PPE is the implementation of washable and recycle PPE.

    In fact, the FDA has provided guidance on conservation strategies, advising healthcare organizations to use washable gown and other PPE as much as possible. This is easier said than done because it is labor-intensive for hospitals to source durable products, manage logistics, track cleaning data, and measure the environmental and sustainability impacts of their implementation.

    AmorSui provides a one-stop shopping solution to help hospitals implement sustainable washable gowns. We started by crafting a line of safety certified washable isolation and surgical gowns, available in 5 sizes instead of the typical one-size fits all model. We also automated the logistics for our customers and provided real-time data-tracking for how many times individual gowns are washed, but also measurements of the environmental impact (including reduced lbs of plastic waste, water, and carbon footprint) of switching from disposables to reusable gowns over time. After the gowns are retired, we partnered with a waste processor to recycle the gowns into textiles that can be manufactured into our gowns or by-products such as water bottles to donate to organizations in need. Our sustainable platform offers a simple and easy process for hospitals to implement carbon-zero sustainable PPE. We are piloting this solution at a 60,000-gown level with a large healthcare hospital with sustainability excellence in 2021, and are looking to expand our offerings to small offices where these solutions are needed, and to expand our product line to include other PPE items such as booties, scrubs, and scrub hats.

  5. Are you only focused on hospitals?

    Due to the shortage of PPE, we have aligned a partnership with a leading healthcare system with commitment to sustainability. In 2021, we are putting plans in place to expand our sustainable platform to a wider audience. Small offices would be able to select our gowns to be freshly delivered at any frequency they would like, and will be able to track their environmental impact in real-time. We have also partnered with Get US PPE, the US’s largest nonprofit donating PPE to people in need, to offer our sustainable solution to nursing homes, rural communities, homeless shelters, and schools.

  6. Before you came along, how were businesses dealing with this problem?

    US hospitals have relied heavily on disposable gowns, which account for over 84% of all gowns used. Hospitals used washable gowns at certain points in the past, but due to the labor-intensive management and unreliable tracking of cleaning life cycles, the majority of these hospitals chose to use disposable gowns instead since they are more convenient. Hospitals that are using washable gowns have no visibility into the life cycle of all gowns, cost-saving, and environmental impacts of choosing such products

  7. One argument against sustainability is that it's too expensive. What's your take?

    When implemented properly, washable gowns are cheaper for hospitals in the long run on a per use basis. For example, an average isolation disposable gown costs $2 per gown. Hospitals would have to pay $2 per use and approximately $0.25 to process medical waste after gown use.

    Our washable gown, which provides the same level of protection, would cost $1 per use and $0.50 for laundering, saving $0.75 per gown per use. In a typical COVID-19 ward, where the staff goes through almost 2,000 gowns per day, we could save $1,500 daily or $548K a year. Depending on the number of departments, hospitals could save in multiples of that.

  8. How are you tracking your impact?

    We have built a mobile app that tracks in real-time the number of gowns that are going through our system, how much disposable plastic waste we saved for each hospital by switching to washable gowns, and these data are compiled to provide information on carbon and water savings. Our laundering partner would capture these data for hospitals, so there little to no impact on the hospital’s workflow as no additional work is required on the hospital’s end.

  9. How can others help you?

    We are actively looking to connect with innovative COOs, sustainability leads, or procurement leads at progressive hospitals, health systems, and smaller doctor’s offices, including your neighborhood dentists, fertility centers, and chiropractors that could benefit from our sustainable gowns solution. Please forward our one-pager to them or tell them to get in touch with us directly at info@amorsuiclothing.com!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 3,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google