Recycling Loop for Corona Masks

June 2021

As part of an international pilot project, including American consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble and Saudi Arabian multinational chemical manufacturing company SABIC, Germany’s renowned Fraunhofer Institute has developed a process for recycling protective anti-Covid-19 masks.

The billions of disposable face masks used during the corona are a social problem. Not only are there health concerns about how the masks are disposed, no environmental efficient options previously existed for efficiently re-using their raw materials. The project’s approach to redressing the situation is thermochemical.

“A single-use medical product such as a face mask has high hygiene requirements, both in terms of disposal and production,” explained Dr. Alexander Hofmann, Head of Department Recycling Management at Fraunhofer UMSICHT, on the institute’s website. “Mechanical recycling would have not done the job. In our solution, therefore, the masks were first automatically shredded and then thermochemically converted to pyrolysis oil. Pyrolysis breaks the plastic down into molecular fragments under pressure and heat, which will also destroy any residual pollutants or pathogens, such as the coronavirus.”

“Recognizing the challenge, we set out to explore how used facemasks could potentially be returned into the value chain of new facemask production,” said Dr. Peter Dziezok, Procter & Gamble Director R&D Open Innovation. “But creating a true circular solution from both a sustainable and an economically feasible perspective takes partners.”

SABIC uses the pyrolysis oil as feedstock for producing PP resin, which is sent to Procter & Gamble, which processes it into non-woven fibers material, thereby completing the recycling loop.

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