The 4 billion old masks that are thrown away every day in the world, what else can they do besides turning into rubbish?

Have you ever wondered where all the disposable masks that are thrown away every day?

In our country, under normal circumstances, discarded masks produced by residents will be sent to incineration together with "dry garbage" or "other garbage." Among them, some cities will generate electricity by burning masks, which can also be regarded as a kind of energy recovery.

Italian designer Tobia Zambotti's idea is more creative: he made discarded masks into "down jackets."

100 imaginations about discarded masks

Looking at this ice-blue "down jacket" from a distance, you may only think that the color is fresh and the fluffy looks very warm.

When I approached, I discovered that its filling was not duck down and goose down, but complete and used discarded masks.

In August of this year, Zambotti collected about 1,500 discarded masks scattered on the streets of Iceland, stored them in sealed plastic bags for one month, and thoroughly disinfected them with ozone. Later, he shipped these "raw materials" to Aleksi Saastamoinen, a fashion design student in Finland, and finally made this unusual down jacket.

Zambotti and Saastamoinen called this down jacket "Coat-19". They deliberately use translucent waterproof materials to make the outer layer of the down jacket, hoping that these clearly visible masks can alert everyone to "absurd environmental pollution caused by the epidemic."

According to the US “Environmental Science and Technology” magazine, about 129 billion masks are used and discarded every month in the world, most of which are disposable. The international environmental organization Oceans Asia estimates that 1.56 billion masks are expected to flow into the ocean in 2020, which is equivalent to 4680 to 6240 tons of plastic pollution.

▲ Just walk on the beach and you can pick up dozens of masks

The main raw material of disposable masks is polypropylene (PP), which is also a kind of plastic in nature. It will take up to 450 years to decompose , which is undoubtedly "exacerbating the situation" for marine ecology.

In the past two years when masks broke into the ocean in large numbers, some penguins mistaken it for food, seagulls were entangled by them and could not fly, and turtles’ snouts and noses were entangled and caused death… From our point of view on land, masks are protective Tools, it has become a "life-threatening weapon" for marine life.

Zambotti discovered that polypropylene fiber can be used to make cheap down jacket fillings. So he had the idea of ​​recycling "masks and down jackets".

Before that, Zambotti also collected discarded masks on the street, and kept them intact after disinfection, and made the sofa cushion "Couch-19" . He deliberately designed the sofa to look like an iceberg, hoping that people will realize that the random disposal and improper handling of disposable masks is a big problem.

Haneul Kim, a Korean university student, also noticed similar problems.

In June last year, he set up a mask recycling bin at the school, collected 10,000 discarded masks, and asked the factory for more than 1 ton of defective masks. Kim placed the masks for disinfection, removed the elastic bands and metal strips, and melted them at a high temperature of over 300 degrees Celsius, and finally made his final work: 9 "mask stools" .

Kim said that he hopes that these colorful stools can help everyone creatively think about how to solve the pollution problem of discarded masks.

Since plastic is recyclable, why don't we recycle masks made of plastic?

Make stationery, make tables and chairs, repair roads… the "second half" of discarded masks

Zambotti's "Mask Down Jacket" and Kim's "Mask Stool" sound more like independent art design projects.

But looking at the world, in addition to the environmental protection agencies regularly organizing to pick up plastic garbage and masks on the beach, there are actually some larger-scale "recycling of discarded masks" in progress .

Plaxtil, a French start-up company, has launched a solution to recycle masks from June 2020.

In the beginning, they cooperated with the local community to set up 50 mask collection points, and collected more than 70,000 masks within 3 months. The collected masks will be quarantined for at least 4 days, the elastic bands and metal strips are removed, crushed, and then sterilized by ultraviolet rays. Finally, they are made into plastic-like materials and used to produce stationery such as triangles, rulers and protractors for local schools. Students use.

In May of this year, the Paris city government initiated a mask recycling operation, set up recycling points in many places, and signed a 100,000 euro cooperation agreement with Plaxtil to hand over some masks to them for recycling. It is said that the cost of recycling 1 cubic meter of masks is 311 euros.

In the United States, TerraCycle sells recycling boxes for disposable masks to small businesses or households. After they are full, they are sent back. These masks will be sent to processing plants for processing. After being recycled into plastic pellets, they are then sold to third-party manufacturers and transformed into benches, carpets, or shipping pallets.

There are many companies that collect first and then recycle. There are many companies that adopt a similar model, but they generally emphasize that they do not accept discarded masks for medical use. The British company TCG (Thermal Compaction Group) is a little bit "different."

TCG cooperates with 7 hospitals in the UK to provide them with professional heating equipment, which can heat the protective clothing, curtains and disposable masks used in the hospital into 1 meter long raw materials within 1 hour, and then recycle them for later use. Used in the manufacture of plastic chairs, buckets and tool boxes, etc.

▲ The "big slabs" that look uneven are the materials made from recycled masks

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has another idea -mixing 1% masks with 99% recycled building materials to make the raw materials for paving.

The research team cut the recycled masks into strips after heating and disinfecting them, and then mixed them with recycled construction gravel and concrete, and found that the resulting materials had better performance in terms of load-bearing, heat resistance, and humidity resistance.

▲ Samples of mixed paving materials

Paving a one-kilometer double-lane road can consume about 3 million masks. The research team said that the road paved by this material will be stronger and more resilient, but the specific feasibility has yet to be tested and practiced.

Is it feasible to make masks more environmentally friendly?

Due to the high cost of recycling masks, and out of public health considerations, many people believe that centralized landfill or incineration is the more efficient way to do so.

The Canadian non-profit organization FCQGED has calculated that the cost of recycling 1 ton of discarded masks is about 45,000 US dollars, but the price of polypropylene itself is only about 1,500 US dollars per ton. Without substantial government subsidies, a large-scale mask recycling program is not feasible.

If it cannot be solved perfectly in the later stage, can the problem be avoided from the beginning?

After the problem of mask pollution has attracted attention, research on degradable masks has become a new trend. Polylactic acid (PLA), polyester fiber, hemp, tissue paper, wood fiber and other materials have become candidates for mask raw materials. In addition, some manufacturers are also developing degradable polypropylene (PP) meltblown materials.

Take polylactic acid (PLA) as an example. This material is called "green plastic" and is made from plants such as corn, wheat, and cassava. It is said that masks made of PLA will not release toxic gases such as nitrides and sulfides when incinerated, and can be completely degraded and attributed to nature under composting conditions.

▲ The natural degradation process of PLA materials

However, this type of "environmental protection masks" is currently not mass produced, and consumers also have their own concerns: if the mask is replaced with materials, will its protective filtering ability be affected? Can you protect me from the new coronavirus infection?

I tried to open Taobao and search for "degradable mask" and found that there are only 6 relevant options. Among them, the monthly sales volume of the best-selling mask is only 38. It may take some time to replace the current disposable masks with biodegradable masks.

Back to the front, Erin Simon , head of plastic waste and operations at WWF , pointed out that the most difficult problem at present is that everyone is using masks, but not everyone can properly discard them. The most effective way to reduce pollution is to throw discarded masks into covered trash cans to prevent them from flowing into oceans, lakes and rivers.

In addition, some environmental protection agencies suggest that for the sake of marine life, the rope can be cut off before discarding the mask.

▲ The seagull whose legs are tightly entangled by the mask

As the global epidemic front stretches, we will coexist with masks for a longer period of time.

Whether it is exploring recycling schemes or looking for better alternative raw materials, it is time to face up to the pollution problem caused by discarding 129 billion masks every month.

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