The Innovative Ways Companies Are Recycling COVID Face Masks

Eliza Gray

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With the pandemic unfortunately sticking around, humanity's efforts to curb the virus have resulted in some serious litter on our curbs. Medical-grade face masks have become the new norm, but with the majority of people around the world opting for a disposable option, we're faced with a growing pile of garbage. Luckily, this unprecedented consequence has brought about unique innovations.

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The American Chemical Society estimated that globally, around 129 billion face masks are used monthly. So, with disposable masks accepted as a necessity, what's next? Thanks to some innovative thinking, some strides have been made. In Cardiff, Wales, the Thermal Compaction Group is utilizing machines to turn the litter re-usable. According to CTV News, the compressed blocks reduce the volume of litter by up to 85%. And what's left? Useful material. "Plastic is a great product, and the infrastructure needs to be there to recover and reuse it," TGC's Environmental Director explained.

Recycling solution covid masks
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Across the channel in France, Tri-o et Greenwishes began providing collection services for used PPE. After being sterilized, the masks are then shredded and reduced to a pebble-like substance. They are later used in the manufacturing of car carpets. This innovative venture came following France's dramatic increase in mask production ever since the pandemic first started.

covid face mask production
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The global company TerraCycle has also spun its own twist on the growing problem. Thanks to their product, the Zero Waste Box, the company boasts that PPE is recycled and reused for products including athletic fields, plastic lumber, and decking applications. And the trend is only growing with other like-minded companies joining along. As TGC's Matthew Rapson put it, "everybody thinks that plastic is the problem, but it's not." And the solution is simple, in theory: Take the material and give it a new life. 

global covid mask recycling
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With the need for PPE still ever-present, the technology used by these creative companies is taking our everyday necessity and creating long-term recycling solutions. And hopefully, the lessons learned can be applied further as we tackle the phenomenon of global plastic use.