It was almost March 2020 when came back to my home Caribbean island, Curacao, after being a guest crew of eXXpedition and sailing nearly 1.000 nautical miles from Panama to the Galapagos Islands. That sailing trip was memorable: We were an all-female crew, we had all kinds of backgrounds and we were united by the same passion of protecting our oceans.

I came home fully excited. I had planned workshops to reach out to my community in the island, share what I saw in the ocean and work together to educate the people for stopping the irresponsible plastic consumption. However, two weeks after I arrived and before I even had my first workshop event, we went in lockdown in Curacao, due to the first confirmed cases of Covid-19 in our island.

Recycled plastic (Photo credit: Camila de Conto)

When everything seemed to be on hold and we were adjusting to home office and zoom meetings, then there comes a challenging and exciting opportunity!

I received an invitation to use my expertise from the Pharmaceutical industry to support a local organization that recycles plastic in Curacao and was going to 3D print Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our frontline workers.

This organization is called Green Phenix, a social enterprise that transforms plastic waste into new usable products, and they are a reference of circular economy in the Caribbean. Green Phenix recycles PET and HDPE, and 3D prints or extrudes Curacao’s waste into new products.

Facing the challenges of a pandemic and a global health care crisis, Green Phenix saw another opportunity to make a positive impact in our island. They collaborated together with BA3D, Curacao Tech Meetups, Drone Racing Curacao and Makeit3d and created the Covid-19 Response Taskforce.

That is when I come in the story!

I am the Hygiene Coordinator of the Taskforce. I developed a hygiene and cleaning protocol for the personnel working with the 3D printing and assembly of PPE, and I set up a sort of clean room at the Green Phenix facility, in which the PPE is disinfected and packed before it goes to the costumer.

Up to this moment, the Covid-19 Response Taskforce 3D prints face shields, door handles, ear guards and even face masks.

Faceshields and earguards, products of Green Phenix (Photo credit: Camila de Conto)

For every sold PPE, a free one is printed for the frontline workers.

What initially was just an idea of 3D printing for the frontline workers, now became a scaled up business. As soon as Curacao started to ease the lockdown measurements, restaurant personnel, dentists, beauty/hair salon personnel, cashiers, police officers, teachers, and every other professional that works directly with the public started looking for our local made PPE.

The values and principles of the Taskforce match with mine, and I feel very happy to be part of this initiative. It is a circular economy based business, so once the user does not need the PPE anymore, he or she can return it to Green Phenix and they get a reward coin for it. This ‘waste’ is then melted and transformed into something else! In addition, it moves the local economy, generate jobs and solves the islands problem (actually it’s a global one) of PPE shortage.

From a PET bottle to a Face Shield

Currently, these PPE are 3D printed from a PLA polymer filament, but the good news is that tests with recycled PET filament have already been done and it presented satisfactory results. The idea is that it will become a self-sustainable concept, with plastic waste being collected and sorted at Green Phenix, followed by a shredding into granular plastic step and finally transformed in filament for 3D printing. This filament will then be used to 3D print the PPE.

The machinery for making the filament rolls from granulated polymer is on its way to Curacao, and with my background as a Materials Engineer, I will support Green Phenix setting up their new production line.

Camila and Sabine in front of Green Phenix (Photo credit: Camila de Conto)

Single Use PPE waste

Curacao adopted a 24h shelter in place policy for a period of 8 weeks, with limited transit of people in the streets, and for essential activities only. Once we were allowed to circulate again, I met with Sabine Berendse, co-founder of Green Phenix, and I felt upset with what she shared with me: She went for a walk and she saw latex gloves and face masks waste in the streets. I then realized that this pandemic is generating a new source of plastic waste that will end up in the environment and in the ocean.

The good thing about the 3D printed PPE that we are producing locally at Curacao is that it can be returned to Green Phenix and it will be transformed into something else, instead of ending up at the landfill.

I am glad I could use the lockdown time to do a positive impact to my local community, and I am looking forward to come back to my plans of sharing with Curacao the experience I had with eXXpedition.

Learn more about Green Phenix Curacao

You can find more about this circular economy organization on all social media channels (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram). Sabine Berendse (former director of Curacao Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation) and Giacomo Booi, co-founders of Green Phenix, are two passionate souls that protect our oceans by recycling and reprocessing the island’s plastic waste! As an eXXpedition ambassador, I feel honored to have teamed up with them.