How to recycle face masks? The most ingenious circular economy solutions

Elizabeth Smith

From France to Spain, Italy to Australia, there are several researchers and companies proposing solutions for recycling single-use face masks, which have become so common – and wasteful- during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, during the pandemic, we used about 129 billion of them a month worldwide, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

But their disposal continues to be complicated. Both because they are infected, thus potentially dangerous. And also because of the materials they are made of, which make them difficult to recycle.

How to recycle face masks, a global problem

To address the vast problem, companies and researchers in several countries have been looking for solutions.

Mixed with a special resin, they are fed into the plastic production cycle, resulting in a variety of items. From anti-Covid protective visors, to door openers that keep the handles off, to stationery products such as rulers and squares.

Recycling face masks, some of the most ingenious ideas

Here are some of the most innovative ways by companies around the world to recycle face masks, turning them in very useful items.

Cement and asphalt for the streets

Plaxtil researchers, in a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, investigated the potential applications of surgical face masks in civil construction. Showing that they could come in handy in road construction.

In fact, the addition of crushed face masks to the recycled concrete aggregate used to make the 3 base layers of roads proved to be a successful option. This could improve and strengthen the construction material, making it stronger and less prone to deformation.

Durable concrete

In related work, RMIT researchers found that shredded disposable masks could also prove useful in concrete production.

And in fact, a Canadian company, Vitacore, puts them through a shredding and melting process to make plastic pellets useful for reinforcing concrete of all things.

PC keyboards and smartphone covers

The Polytechnic University of Turin has also been working in this direction, publishing in the journal Polymers an interesting research. It demonstrates the possibility of recycling masks to obtain different types of thermoplastic materials.

From Pc keyboards to smartphone covers, but also stools, benches and much more.

Bins and containers

A famous association has been working for years all over the world with the aim of eliminating the idea of waste. TerraCycle in fact, is carrying out a substantial campaign to recycle single-use masks and protective products.

From which, recycled plastic can be obtained. This can be used in the production of furniture, bins, containers and other objects.

Furniture and street furniture

Mask recycling initiatives have also been activated in Spain, such as the Sanitas project. The devices are collected inside special containers installed in Sanitas dental clinics. And then, in collaboration with Recicla Mascarillas, they enter a recycling process that transforms them into products for the industrial and transportation sectors.

Read also: Upcycling, definition and the difference with recycling

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