Recycle face masks and sustainability

08 Jun 2022
Categories: News

Few good things have emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic. One of them is that, due to the upsurge in mask use, businesses expanded and new businesses were created to recycle face masks. Here are just a few ways pre-loved(!) disposable face masks are being used:

Batteries

Scientists have turned used face masks into low cost batteries. The thin batteries can be used for household appliances such as clocks and are cheaper than metal-coated conventional batteries.

Lumbar and floor tiles

TerraCyclerecycle face masks, a US headquartered company with offices all over the world, offers a collection service for used PPE including visors, disposable gloves, ear plugs, beard snoods, hair nets, safety glasses and disposable garments. The waste is collected, quarantined and then sorted into categories based on material composition and sent to partner facilities.

The polypropylene from the face mask is made into a raw material that can be used in plastic lumber. The elastic earloops are ground into a fine mesh and mixed with recycled plastics to provide additional flexibility. Gloves are processed into a powder which is used for floor tiles and playground surface covers.

Roads and footpaths

A recent paper in ScienceDirect.com found that face masks can be used to strengthen the materials use in roads and pavements. Tests were conducted on various blends of shredded face masks which were added to the recycled concrete aggregate used in roads and footpaths. It found that the addition of the shredded face masks increased the strength and stiffness of the recycled concrete aggregate and improved the flexibility of the blends.

Benches, roads and car carpets

According to an article on Irish channel RTE, researchers in Australia want to transform disposable face masks into road material. In the United States, it is recycled into benches. And in France, the recycled particles are used in car floor carpets.

Plastic chairs, buckets and toolboxes

A company in Wales works with a number of NHS hospitals to recycle used disposable masks and PPE. The items are first heated to 300C to sterilise all pathogens including Anthrax. It converts the 300,000 masks each month into 1 metre blocks that are 99.6% polypropylene. These blocks are then used to make products such as plastic chairs. But ultimately, they could be used to create more PPE, and so the cycle continues…

In a BBC article, Dr Rob Elias, director of the Biocomposites Centre at Bangor University, said the polypropylene in a mask can be recycled five to six times before it breaks down.

What does Irema do with the bits left over?

Irema has always passed on its excess raw materials to a company in the Netherlands. Due to the demand for face masks in 2021, we contracted a second company. These companies regrind the materials for use in oil spill booms.  Oil spill booms are used by responders after there has been a spill. Locations threatened by an advancing oil slick can be protected with booms to slow and contain the spread.

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