Healthcare sustainability Champion

Kaitlyn Cooke

Registered Nurse Kaitlyn Cooke, realised the environmental toll of disposable PPE after using 50 sets during a single shift caring for a COVID-infected baby.

“I thought, this is actually really bad for the world. There’s got to be a better way we can do this,” said Kaitlyn who was based in Tasmania at the time.

This sparked her determination to find a more sustainable solution.

Kaitlyn’s search for eco-friendly alternatives proved challenging, especially as she uncovered alarming statistics about the longevity of disposable masks in landfills.

“Some of the numbers were quite astounding to me. Each mask takes 450 years to break down, and we used 129 billion masks per month during COVID,” she said.

Motivated to develop a better solution, Kaitlyn spent two years researching and experimenting to create an environmentally friendly yet protective mask. Her journey involved a series of trial-and-error attempts to find materials that would be protective and meet the criteria for bacterial filtration and splash resistance.

After much perseverance, she discovered the right combination, resulting in a TGA-approved mask that was not only protective but also 100% compostable, breaking down in just 180 days into organic matter.

Yet what sets Kaitlyn’s masks apart is her firsthand understanding of their impact on users, gained from her experiences as a nurse during the pandemic.

“I think because I’m a nurse and because I lived through the pandemic and had to wear these [masks] for sometimes 18 hours a day, I know the effects that they had on the end user.

Kaitlyn conducted breathability and skin irritation studies and also looked at studies on microplastics to ensure her masks were user-friendly and aimed to address issues like headaches, brain fog, and skin irritation.

In pursuit of her mission, Kaitlyn left her nursing career and founded her company, Eco Defend, to focus on mask production, education, and healthcare sustainability in Sydney. She’s determined to raise awareness and change the culture in the healthcare industry, emphasising that it’s not just about selling a product but also educating and managing waste effectively.

Kaitlyn’s efforts have paid off, with her products receiving positive feedback from trials in pharmacies and clinics. She is now engaging with hospitals and procurement teams to better understand their needs.

eco defend masks

Her ultimate goal is to expand her range of compostable healthcare products.  

“I think being in the industry and seeing what’s currently used; I know what I can and can’t play within that space. Some things I’ll never be able to change, unfortunately, but there are recycling streams that can be used as well.”

For nurses and midwives looking to make a difference in sustainability, Kaitlyn’s advice is simple yet powerful: “Keep trying, don’t limit yourself, and believe in your cause.”

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