Today, with so many people wearing face masks, there is a growing problem of litter on sidewalks, beaches, and parking lots around the world. Several innovative companies have found creative ways to turn recycled face masks into useful materials. Here are 5 ways these companies are recycling face masks.
How long have face masks been around?
Although face masks are now mandatory in most public places around the world, many countries have used face masks for decades.
Historians first believed that during the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages, medical professionals wore spike-shaped masks filled with herbs to protect themselves while treating patients. Later, they could find no real evidence that doctors used this type of mask. However, a German museum exhibits two such artifacts that they admit may or may not be forgeries.
Still, according to the National Institute of Health, the use Of those that cover the nose or mouth, such as veils, masks, mouth wraps, although they were used infrequently before, they began to be used more widely in the early 20th century.
Surgical masks were first used in operating rooms in the United States in the 1920s. Over time, face masks evolved into a variety of materials, thicknesses, and shapes. Despite the findings that helped eliminate the spread of germs, many older surgeons refused to use them, saying they were annoying.
In the 1940s, the development of washable and sterilizable face masks revolutionized their ease of use. Disposable masks made of fleece and paper arrived from the United States in the mid-1960s. The worldwide use of reusable and disposable masks is acceptable in most countries today, especially since the pandemic.
What about littering with masks?
Today’s disposable face masks are many made of single-use plastic. This means that thousands of masks are thrown away every day. Masks are the new garbage problems plaguing landfills around the world. Fortunately, some innovative companies are catching on and finding ways to recycle waste from face masks.
Smart ways companies recycle face masks
These innovators could have something great!
1 – Pressed plastic for protective visors
Plaxtil, a French business company, recycles face masks and turns them into pressed plastic. At first, they were turning textiles into plastic products. But since last June, they have collected thousands of masks to recycle.
First, they remove the metal noseband and disinfect the masks with ultraviolet light. Then they press the sanitized material into the plastic. Finally, they mold it into various types of protective elements, such as visors or accessories to keep the masks in place.
Co-founder of Plaxtil, Olivier Civil, explained the motivation behind their work, as follows:
“We said to ourselves, these masks must not end up in the wild or burned. We can recycle them, we can make something with this material. “
Plaxtil is just one of many companies that see the problem and take innovative steps to recycle masks.
2 – Road paving materials
A group of researchers in Melbourne, Australia, found a solution for the discarded masks. They found that they could use old face masks on road paving materials. One kilometer or about half a mile of highway uses up to a million discarded masks. The materials of the masks, polypropylene plastic, make the roads more flexible and durable.
Research scientists Jie Li and some other scientists from the Royal Institute of Technology published their findings in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
Road paving is a major operation, so finding materials that will reinforce roads and provide additional resistance to asphalt wear is huge. In addition to these advantages, the use of discarded masks to pave roads is cheaper, almost half the average cost. Right now, the recycled masks can be worn in two of the four layers that need to be laid on the roads. They estimate that if they used three million masks to pave a half-mile of road, they could recycle up to 93 tons of waste that would normally go to landfills.
Holy ways, Batman!
3 – Tie rods, decks and rail timber
After the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas was forced to temporarily close due to the pandemic, they reopened with new security measures to protect their staff and guests. Along with this, they felt a new vision to recycle the discarded masks their guests used.
According to the resort, their groundbreaking idea to recycle guest face masks is the first recycling program of its kind in the hospitality industry. Working in partnership with a waste management company called TerraCycle, the Venetian Resort collects discarded masks and delivers them to a recycling facility.
This facility cleans and shreds them, turning them into raw materials that are used to make railroad ties, composite wood for shipping pallets, and composite materials for roofing. Prior to this project, Venetian Resort recycled its trash, but much of it still went to landfills.
Venetian Resort stated the following:
“Through this program, between 55% and 60% of waste is diverted from local landfills, a figure that far exceeds the national average of 32% or the state average of 23%.”
This project is part of TerraCycle global sustainability plan called Sands ECO360, which brings together responsible companies in hopes of encouraging others to find ways to recycle to help the environment.
4 – Three-legged stools
Surprisingly, this story is not about a company, but about a concerned citizen. Kim Ha-neul is an individual who is bothered by all the face masks he saw on the streets and sidewalks.
This senior student knew that face masks were made of polypropylene, which is a type of plastic. He reasoned that since plastic is recycled all the time, why can’t masks be recycled? With this in mind, he set up mask collection boxes around his university in Uiwang city, south of Seoul. He collected over 10,000 masks and over a ton, roughly 2,204.6 pounds in the US, of defective covers donated by a nearby factory.
He kept these masks for four days to make sure they didn’t transmit the virus and then worked to recycle them. After removing the elastic and cables, Ha-neul heats the mask to 570 ° F, melting them and molding them into an 18-inch three-legged stool, red, blue, or white. That depends on the color of the face coverings you are recycling. Ha-neul hopes to manufacture other pieces of furniture in the future, such as chairs, tables and even lights.
He’s installing mask recycling boxes in his city and others to collect more discarded face covers. In fact, he hopes his government will pick up on it and use his idea. Ha-neul’s three-legged stools are not for sale yet, but he has been an inspiration to many of his fellow students.
Twenty-year-old art student Park Sung-chan summed it up with saying this,
“It has such a strong message. This will remind us of what we have been through in 2020 with the coronavirus and is also environmentally friendly.
Kim Ha-neul is an inspiration to everyone. His one little idea removed thousands of pounds of face mask waste. How smart were you to turn them into useful products? And as Ha-neul’s friend says, the stools are a reminder for all of what we have lived in 2020.
5 – Recyclable plastic
Seeing the discarded face masks and other garbage accumulating on beaches and cities across the country, one man decided to do something about it. Jack (Tato) Bigio co-founded UBQ Materials in Israel.
Every week, the UBQ factory located at Kibbutz Ze’elim in southern Israel collects 30 tons of garbage from diapers, plastic bags and masks. Once collected, they transform them into strong and durable sustainable materials.
The factory is partially powered by solar energy. In fact, it is the first factory in the world to recycle all kinds of waste to make reusable material. UBQ has just announced a recent partnership with Mainetti, a retail supplier of plastic clothes hangers. They also supply McDonald’s with the supplies they need for their trays and other products.
Bigio summarizes the vision of UBQ Materials by saying,
“For us, waste is a locally available natural resource; for others, it is a problem. “
The global pandemic continues to spread throughout the world. And so does the growing need to find creative ways to recycle disposable mask garbage. These innovators see the problem. But instead of sitting on the sidelines, they came up with creative ways to turn waste into a new resource. Your actions inspire and hopefully remind everyone that it only takes a little idea to create a solution to a big problem.