Paris, France: Australian researchers plan to turn single-use Covid masks into road material. The protective gear is repurposed into benches in the United States. In France, they’ve been reincarnated as vehicle floor carpets.
Masks are increasing another pandemic: plastic pollution, which is being used to combat the spread of Covid-19.
According to the American Chemical Society, 129 billion disposable masks are used every month around the world.
Used masks are frequently thrown out in rubbish bins, destined for landfills, or cremated. They are made of polypropylene plastic material, elastic, and metal.
In addition, they clutter streets, rivers, and oceans, endangering wildlife.
However, researchers and businesses are looking for ways to put masks to good use, despite the fact that it is not a particularly profitable endeavor at the present.
Chairs for the garden
Several hospitals in the United Kingdom have purchased a compactor built by Thermal Compaction Group of Cardiff, which melts protective gowns and surgical masks into blue slabs.
After that, the material is utilized to create garden seats or tables.
Tri-o et Greenwishes, a recycling company in France, collects masks tossed in specific bins used by about 30 customers, including Parisian hospitals, TF1 television, and Saint-Gobain, a building materials giant.
“We had a lot of demand from our clients” to offer mask recycling services, said company president Matthieu de Chanaleilles.
The company collects rubbish for a monthly cost starting at 250 euros ($300).
Staff in protective gear sort through paper tissues, gloves, and cups that are put into mask bins by accident at its recycling operation behind plexiglass. Following that, the workers are sprayed with disinfectant.
UV lamps are used to sanitize the sorting area. Before being handled, masks are quarantined for a week.
The masks are then shredded, disinfected, and the polypropylene extracted, which is then turned into pebbles that are used to produce floor carpets and other plastic parts for automobiles.
So far, Tri-o et Greenwishes has recycled one tonne of masks, with the goal of recycling 20 tonnes by the end of the year.
It’s a speck in a sea of masks.
According to a January parliamentary report, 40,000 tonnes of masks were discarded in France last year with no opportunity for recycling.
The journey is long.
Making the business profitable is a difficult task.
TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey, sells a $88 “zero waste box” for disposable masks.
The masks are then shipped to partner facilities where they are recycled into plastic granules that are sold to companies that construct benches, flooring surfaces, and shipping pallets.
Personal protective equipment is more expensive to recycle than aluminium, according to TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky.
“Why is, say, for example, a dirty diaper, or PPE not recyclable? It’s because it costs much more to collect and process and the results are worse. So no one would bother doing it because there’s no money to be made,” Szaky told AFP.
“So Terracycle’s business says ‘Well, if someone’s willing to pay those actual costs, then we can perform such a service,” he said.
After being inspired by the sight of masks littering the streets in Australia, researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are experimenting with various alternatives.
According to scientists, once sterilized and shredded, masks may be mixed with processed building rubble to form a flexible and strong material that may be used to assist build roadways.
The researchers are currently looking into how they could be used in construction cement.
One kilometer (half a mile) of the road requires three million masks.
“The facemask has a good tensile strength; they can provide tensile strength to the concrete, which is very important,” Mohammad Siberian, a post-doctoral research fellow at RMIT University, told AFP.
“We’re currently looking for partners to use the face masks in real-world applications and to make kind of a pilot road,” Saberian said.
Several sectors have shown interest in the research since it was published earlier this year, and the team is now seeking funds to further examine the findings, which might take one to two years, he added.
AFP contributed to this report.