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Brief Published: 25 Jun 2020

Biodegradable Face Mask Made from Wood Fibres

Biodegradable Face Mask Made from Wood Fibres

As the influx in disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) usage continues to contribute negatively to the global problem of plastic pollution, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada have developed a fully compostable and biodegradable face mask.

Recognising the benefits of manufacturing locally to improve PPE supply lines, the research team used locally sourced wood to produce the medical-grade mask. Wood fibres from softwood sources, such as pine, spruce and cedar, are processed into a paper-like material for the frame. One prototype uses a commercial N95 filter, while another has a wood-based filter specially designed by the team.

“The beautiful thing about paper is that it is quite adaptable,” says Reanna Seifert, laboratory technician at the university’s Pulp and Paper Centre. “You can add strengthening agents, antimicrobial agents, a moisture barrier to help with the longevity of the mask.”

Both prototypes are currently being tested to ensure they meet health industry specifications before scaling up the cost-effective production.

A recent study from Texas A&M University found that not wearing a face mask dramatically increases a person’s chances of being infected by Covid-19. This, paired with an increasing concern about the harmfulness of pollution, means the use of protective apparel is set to become more widespread and permanent.

While protective apparel is a lucrative venture for many (see Adapting to a Changing Climate: Fashion Update), the materiality of any single-use item needs to be carefully considered.  

See Acoustic Panels Made with Biomaterial & Biomimicry for a similar pulp material, Biomaterials in our Materials Evolution: S/S 22 for other low-impact material developments and Resetting Plastics for more on the use of plastic for healthcare applications.