Single-use plastic bottles find second life in prosthetic devices 

How do you slash the cost of a prosthetic limb socket from approximately $6,000 to around $12? Simple: You fabricate it from plastic water bottles, and strike a blow against plastic waste in the process. The idea originated with Dr. Karthikeyan Kandan, a senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at De Montfort University (DMU) Leicester in the United Kingdom.

prosthetic socket made from recycled plastic bottle

Kandan used granulated materials from recycled plastic water bottles to spin polyester yarn that is heated to form a solid, lightweight material and molded into prosthetic limb sockets. The first-of-its-kind device could address the gap between high-performance prostheses costing thousands of dollars and affordable devices that lack quality and durability, explained Kandan, who is also associate director of DMU’s Institute of Engineering Sciences. “There are so many people in developing countries who would really benefit from quality artificial limbs but unfortunately cannot afford them,” said Dr Kandan. “The aim of this project was to identify cheaper materials that we could use to help these people, and that’s what we have done.”

Prosthetic socket made from recycled plastic bottle
The socket was trialed in India with above-the-knee and below-the-knee amputees. 

Kandan traveled to India with the socket, which was manufactured at DMU, to trial the device with two patients, one who had been amputated above the knee and one below-the-knee amputee. Both individuals said the prosthetic was lightweight and easy to walk with, according to Kandan. Moreover, the design allows air to flow freely through the rest of the leg, which is highly desirable in a hot climate. He is now seeking to conduct a larger-scale study with people from different countries to refine the design for varied patient circumstances.

In addition to potentially providing millions of amputees with a low-cost mobility aid, Kandan believes that his initiative can play at least a small part in achieving a circular economy for plastics.

The project was funded by the Global Challenges Research Funding, which supports cutting edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. It was also backed by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the independent UK body that represents the diversity of medical science. India’s Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahavata Samiti, the world’s largest organization for rehabilitating disabled people, as well as prosthetic experts from the Malaviya National Institute of Technology, the University of Salford, University of Southampton and University of Strathclyde provided support.

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