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Brief Published: 17 Sep 2020

Covid-19 Waste: Green Solutions for Single-Use PPE

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Plaxtil is transforming single-use masks into a plastic-like material

The pandemic has stalled global efforts to combat single-use plastics. Disposable personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves, are rapidly contributing to the problem. Fortunately, efforts to turn the potentially hazardous waste into useful products are surfacing.

French start-up Plaxtil, which specialises in waste clothing and textile recycling, is now recovering and transforming single-use masks into a plastic-like material, also called Plaxtil. The used PPE is quarantined for four days before processing. It is then ground down into small pieces and exposed to ultraviolet light to ensure complete decontamination, before being mixed with a binding agent. The resulting material can then be moulded into any desired product. The firm is currently producing further PPE for use in the pandemic, such as plastic visors.

Meanwhile, some brands are committing to recycling their PPE responsibly, through initiatives with TerraCycle. Zero Waste Boxes from the US recycling brand are a convenient solution for collecting hard-to-recycle waste, such as PPE. When full, the boxes are returned to TerraCycle, which cleans, melts down and remoulds the waste to make new products. Disposable masks, typically made from polypropylene, can be used to produce new plastic products, while disposable rubber gloves can be used by rubber manufacturers in low-grade applications, such as matting.

The US subsidiary of Japanese automaker Subaru and UK telecommunications provider O2 are among the brands employing the boxes across their offices, training centres and retail stores.

Any pause in progress towards more sustainable practices should be a great cause for concern for brands, and the use of any single-use item should be addressed responsibly. See Resetting Plastics for more on the use of plastic for healthcare applications and our Materials Evolution: S/S 22 for low-impact material developments.

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