Of the world’s 65 million amputees, two thirds reside in low-to-middle-income countries, where injury and disease can mean loss of a limb to people in their prime. Available prostheses often function poorly and are discarded, adding to the plastic waste crisis. To help amputees and the environment, Circleg has designed affordable, quality lower-limb prostheses, to be made from locally sourced plastics at regional, circular manufacturing hubs.
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A holistic approach
In 2018, Fabian Engel and Simon Oschwald, industrial design students at the Zurich University of the Arts, set out to increase amputees’ access to quality prostheses while reducing plastic waste. And they sought to demonstrate that a holistic approach to solving this humanitarian and environmental problem was not only possible, but sustainable. In the words of their Product and Business Developer, Laura Magni, this meant that “In order to have a long-lasting sustainable impact, we also needed to build a healthy social enterprise.”
7000 amputees in East Africa are projected to benefit from the Circleg prosthesis in the next three years alone.
Design in service of mobility, equality and the environment
The result was Circleg, a social enterprise named for its application of Circular Economy principles to the manufacture of artificial legs. Thus, a business whose profits will be reinvested in a socially beneficial mission – increasing amputees’ mobility and equality, while ensuring that existing plastics remain in use, rather than ending up in landfills or oceans. After assessing regional needs and existing networks, Team Circleg set up their East African Hub in Kenya. A combined manufacturing and training site, the Hub can be replicated across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Amputees and orthopaedic technicians who live near hubs consult on design to ensure that local conditions (such as humidity, terrain, and types of plastics available) are considered.
A life-changing product
Robina Kakuwa and Kezekia Sublime are two Ugandan amputees who have been busy helping Circleg test its innovative artificial leg this winter. “It is so much lighter than my current one,” observed Robina. “I feel very confident while wearing the Circleg prosthesis,” added Kezekia. It’s been quite a journey from idea to life-changing product.
The circleg cycle
Circleg improves accessibility and sustainability of quality prosthetics by designing and producing them based on principles of the circular economy. Circleg prosthetics are made of locally recycled post-consumer plastic (1), mixed with glass fibres for strength and durability (2). Their parts are injection molded (3) and distributed to local hospitals and P&O centres (4), where they will be individually adjusted for each amputee (5). Broken parts can be exchanged and returned to the materials cycle, to be transformed into new prosthetics (6). Thus, Circleg produces quality prostheses and ensures their availability, while also promoting sustainable resource use.