'A Circular Approach to a Pandemic – Designing out PPE waste,' Geelong Design Week event

Research news
02 March 2021

Mask wearing during COVID-19 was hugely effective at reducing infection rates. But what about disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE) wastage and its environmental impact? Deakin University staff and students have devised innovative research solutions to this problem that will be showcased at Geelong Design Week 2021.

Given its focus on re-designing materials for a circular economy, Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials has sought to encourage discussion of potential research solutions over the past few months. Now, at the Deakin-hosted virtual event, ‘A Circular Approach to a Pandemic – Designing out PPE waste,’ teams will pitch their re-imagined and re-designed solutions, underpinned by circular economy principles, that would solve this environmental challenge.

The event will explore the idea that whilst current disposable PPE – such as a face mask – may protect us, it does nothing to protect our planet from waste. But what if PPE could be designed to protect human health and have a positive environmental impact?

The teams will comprise Higher Degree by Research students, early and mid-career researchers and academic staff from the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) and the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment. They have been working collaboratively to develop innovative, society-transforming potential solutions.

In the lead-up, teams have received significant mentorship opportunities to develop their pitches from a cross-disciplinary group of world-leading thinkers. The mentors have a significant scope of expertise­ – from the circular economy, to supply chain logistics to business strategy, consumer behaviour, systems thinking, creative design, to filtration and aerosol dispersal.

The pitches will be reviewed by an expert panel who will evaluate their solutions and provide feedback. The panel members are:

  • John Gertsakis – Director, Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence; Senior Policy Adviser, Design Institute of Australia.
  • Jodie Bricout – Circular Economy Manager, Lifecycles and Board Member NSW Circular.
  • Rowan Williams – President, Australasian Bioplastics Association, Regional Market Development Manager, Biopolymers Association, BASF Asia Pacific.
  • Dr Julie-Ann White – Director, Health Research and Enterprise Development, Deakin University, Chair, The Iron Deficiency Collaborative and Director, Centurius Pty Ltd.
  • Jennifer Cromarty – CEO, Committee for Geelong and Founder, Creative Geelong Inc.
  • Professor James Doerfler – Chair of Architecture, Deakin University.

One of the participants, Associate Research Fellow Dr Gayathri Devi Rajmohan (IFM), says she gained a new set of skills while working to develop a research solution.

“Amidst the difficulties of the lock-down, this design challenge has been a great opportunity to take a break, think (or rethink) and interact with a multi-disciplinary team who challenge and inspire me at the same time,” Dr Rajmohan said.

“There has never been a dull session. Having perspectives of several colleagues has trumped just the one set of ideas that I have. I have honed a new set of skills in a short span of time as many great minds have shared the platform of this design challenge!”

The event will include a panel discussion on the role of design and systems thinking in accelerating a circular economy, led by Professor Tuba Kocaturk from Deakin’s School of Built Environment and Architecture, and Director MInD (Mediated Intelligence in Design) Lab, and Cath McMahon, Manager, Major Projects, at IFM.

Audience members will be invited to participate in feedback and discussion via Mentimeter.

‘A Circular Approach to a Pandemic – Designing out PPE waste’, Geelong Design Week, 1-4:30 pm, Monday, 22nd March 2021. Register to attend the virtual event here.

Deakin University is involved in several activities during Geelong Design Week 2021. The full program can be found here.

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