A collaborative project between Kao Industrial (Thailand) Co., Ltd., Kao Consumer Products (Southeast Asia) Co., Ltd., Kanebo Cosmetics (Thailand) Co., Ltd. and YOUTURN, a waste management platform initiated by PTT Global Chemical Public Company Limited (GC), forming an alliance for the upcycling of used PET bottles to make personal protective equipment (PPE) suits for medical teams combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand has recently passed the peak of the highest levels of infection and death, with 23,418 infected people on August 13, 2021, and 312 deaths on August 18, 2021, respectively. Since then, the trend has been slightly downward, although remaining at a high level. This situation has impacted front-line medical teams, who have been working hard since 2020. These teams are responsible for PCR-testing and pro-active case identification to stop the spread of the virus and prevent clusters from forming, and some of them are treating infected people in emergency field hospitals and regular hospitals, closely supervising severe cases who are being treated in an ICU with ventilator equipment. As a result, these medical teams are always in high risk, because they are in close contact with infected patients. Many members of medical teams have already been accidentally infected, and so there is a need for large quantities of PPE suits for full self-protection in their daily work.
During the period of high infection rates, there was sometimes insufficient PPE for medical teams, and the price was relatively high. Responding to the needs created by the pandemic, the Kao Group Mid-term Plan 2025 (K25) vision of "Sustainability as the only path" and the focus on "Save lives, protect people" sparked our idea and made this collaborative project happen. The goal of this project is not only to "Save lives, protect people", but also to help build a sustainable environment through the circular economy by utilizing used PET bottles, with the involvement of employees from the three companies noted above: Kao Industrial (Thailand) (Head Office, Factory, Distribution Center and Sales Office in Bangkok), Kao Consumer Products (Southeast Asia), and Kanebo Cosmetics (Thailand).
The initiative faced a major challenge, in that we didn't have our own know-how for upcycling technology and innovation, but we were finally able to find partners who had expertise in upcycling innovation, specifically GC (a major petrochemical manufacturer) with their alliance which initiated YOUTURN waste management platform. We approached them, outlining our company mission and vision, and asked them to join with us in this collaborative social contribution project. It was agreed that the Kao Group would help with the collecting of used PET bottles, with the establishment of six collection points, and GC and their partner companies would collect used PET bottles in bulk from each collection point and transport them to their factory for the upcycling process. Some adjustments had to be made to existing processes in order to make plastic yarn from used PET bottles for Level-2 PPE suits of the type used by doctors and other front-line personnel.
GC ran this project through the YOUTURN platform, and invited partners who shared their commitment to promoting the circular economy to help manage waste throughout the product life cycle. The YOUTURN platform would collect used PET Bottles from each collection point in Bangkok and surrounding areas for use in the upcycling process to make Level-2 PPE suits. Fortunately, Kao was able to meet their criteria, and so this collaborative project got underway.
In this collaborative project, we are aiming to produce a total of 500 PPE suits from used PET bottles, which we are planning to have donated to medical teams by the presidents of three companies, together with representatives from partner organizations, in the first quarter of 2022. This requires the collecting of used PET bottles from six Kao Group collection points and it is anticipated that a total of around 9,000 bottles will be collected over the period September 27 to December 15, 2021. The realization of this project will not only make a positive contribution to society but will also help to reduce plastic pollution in Thailand and reduce virgin plastic consumption by around 144 kg.
Although this is just a small step to reduce plastic waste and contribute to society, it nevertheless represents a good start, and show that, when it comes to "Sustainability as the only path," Kao is walking the talk.