deskPET Can Help Offices Cope With the COVID-19

Here's one way to separate yourself from your neighbor in the office.

deskPET setup


When I wrote recently about the 15-minute city and the return of the satellite office, I showed images of Lokaal, the coworking space in my 15-minute city, which showed lovely communal desks running the length of the space. But nobody really wants to sit at a big communal desk these days.

Many companies are building acrylic boxes and dividers to separate workers, trying to maintain transparency; but acrylic sheets like Plexiglas or Lucite are flammable, and not easily recycled. 

Among recycled plastics, it is considered as a Group 7 plastic and mostly not collected for recycling. It is possible to form large pieces into useful objects in case they have not suffered crazing, stress or cracking. These are not readily biodegradable. Some of them are highly flammable and must be protected from combustion sources.

Even acrylic manufacturers admit it is self-dirtying. "Acrylic plastic is a natural conductor of electricity. The static electricity charge can attract dirt and debris from the air and cause buildup." It is not easy to clean, either; according to Canada's National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health,

Health Canada has created  a list of disinfectants for use against COVID-19. However,  many common disinfectants are known to damage acrylic or polycarbonate surfaces, causing them to crack or become cloudy. Proprietary cleaning solutions may not contain detergents or other ingredients sufficient to destroy SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 
deskPET setup on long desk
deskPET setup.  Lokaal

That's why the solution at Lokaal is so interesting. They went upstairs to the offices of Dubbeldam Architecture + Design and came up with their own design for dividers that they call the deskPET.

As coworking space operators ourselves at Lokaal, we knew we’d need to provide dividers to encourage members to return to our space and feel safe, but we couldn’t bear the thought of contributing to all the plastic waste that acrylic dividers will be creating around the world. Not to mention the high cost of acrylic and the clinical/institutional feel they create.

The dividers are made mostly out of recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles. (Hence the PET in the name.) "Manufactured from 100% polyester fibers containing at least 60% post-consumer recycled content, the panels themselves are 100% recyclable, contain no VOC’s, resist bacterial and fungal growth and are color fast (won’t fade over time)."

Because they are a kind of synthetic felt, they are sound-absorbing. They do not attract dust and do not show fingerprints.

Viruses on surfaces
Times and decay of viruses. National Institutes of Health​

But also, Treehugger previously described studies that showed how long the virus survived on surfaces, and solid plastics were just about the worst of everything and nobody is building dividers out of copper, the best material. The virus hangs around on plastic sheets for 72 hours. (PET is plastic, but I suspect that because of its felt-like surface it acts more like a fabric.)

Lokaal divider
Lokaal divider.  Lokaal

Lokaal claims that "Desktop workspace dividers dramatically reduce the opportunity for the spread of viruses from airborne droplets… like face masks for your desk." That doesn't mean you don't also need a face mask for your face, or that other measures like regularly cleaning surfaces, changing filters, and opening windows shouldn't also happen. (Lokaal reports that they are and are limiting admission to "members only and in a limited capacity to permit physical distancing.") I also wonder if the screens are high enough, given that the virus is airborne, though they do seem to meet the recommended height.

But if you are going to rely on a divider, it certainly makes more sense to use recycled and recyclable PET than it does to use acrylic. When you look at the recommendations for the design of barriers, they are all about dealing with the public, where transparency makes sense. they also should be 12 inches higher than your mouth, which these appear to be. But if you are not dealing with the public, then the transparency thing is silly; to have a conversation, people will have to still have to "prairie dog" and stand up.

Verkspace Coworking Toronto
Dividers at Verkspace Coworking Toronto.  Lokaal

Lokaal and Dubbeldam are on to something here. They are selling them to other coworking locations like Verkspace shown here, and you can order them online.