Scientist innovatively recycles plastic bottle into prosthetic leg: ‘This idea has legs!’

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Mechanical engineering lecturer Karthikeyan Kandan. (Photo: ASIA WIRE/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA)
Mechanical engineering lecturer Karthikeyan Kandan. (Photo: ASIA WIRE/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA)

A British lecturer has found a way to recycle plastic into prosthetic limbs. It's no secret the world has a plastic pollution problem. Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

And plastic bottles are the biggest offender. Now a boffin has come up with a bright idea to reuse plastic bottles to create prosthetic legs. Mechanical engineering lecturer Karthikeyan Kandan discovered he could grind down plastic bottles to create a substance that can be moulded into prosthetic limbs.

“Upcycling of recycled plastics and offering affordable prostheses are two major global issues that we need to tackle,” says Kandan (40) of De Montfort University in Leicester, England. “We wanted to develop a prosthetic limb that was cost effective yet comfortable and durable for amputee patients.”

The process – in which the powdered bottles are spun into polyester yarns and heated to form the limbs – costs just £10 (about R185) compared with the industry average of £5 000 (R92 500) to make a prosthetic. Kandan’s first-of-its-kind prosthetic, which is lightweight and sweat-proof, has been successfully tried and tested in India.

“There are so many people in developing countries who’d really benefit from quality artificial limbs but unfortunately can’t afford them,” Kandan notes. “The aim of this project was to identify cheaper materials that we could use to help these people, and that’s what we’ve done. 

“Our work will help restore mobility to the millions of amputees in low- to middle-income countries and will undoubtedly have a major positive impact on public health and welfare.” After the plastic prosthetics were created, two versions of the product were sent to India to be tested – one for an above-the-knee amputation, the other for a below-the-knee amputation.

(Photo: ASIA WIRE/MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA).

One of the patients, Anshul Bansal (22), who now uses the plastic bottle prosthetic, says it’s changed his life. “Last year I had an accident in which I lost my right leg below the knee, so to help accomplish my work and activities I needed a prosthetic. “The new prosthetic, which is made from plastic waste, is quite light in weight and sweat-proof, which is a major concern for an amputee as sweat causes bad rashes,” he says.

“I’m looking forward to using it in harsh conditions to check its feasibility and durability. I feel privileged to have been chosen for it.” Along with helping to create affordable limbs for those who can’t afford the hefty price tag, Kandan hopes using recycled plastic bottles will help reduce pollution.

“There are some really scary statistics about how much plastic is polluting our oceans and the planet.” Not all plastic products can be recycled. “So it’s up to us to find new uses for them,” Kandan says

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