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Asia Minute: New Productive Lives for Used Disposable Masks?

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Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s been more than a year since the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus was a global pandemic. Part of the new reality since then has been the widespread use of disposable masks. Now a team in Indonesia is experimenting with recycling them—not as masks, but as part of other products.

The Indonesian Institute of Sciences wants to create a better future for the millions of disposable masks the country runs through each day.

A group there is working on using them to create plastic pellets—which can then be transformed into everything from clothes hangers to plastic buckets.

The Straits Times quotes the team leader as saying after the masks are sterilized, they’re fed into an extruder that separates the plastic and another machine that cuts it into small granules.

He says those polypropylene plastic pellets become raw material for other manufacturers—keeping the masks out of landfills, rivers and the ocean.

Others are also experimenting.

Recycling International reports a French start-up company called “Plaxtil” disinfects disposable masks with ultraviolet rays—and uses the extracted plastic in textile products.

And just this week, the British store Wilko announced it’s going to collect disposable face masks starting next month.

It’s working with several recycling companies which will break down the masks and use parts of them to create products from building materials to furniture.

Back in Indonesia, the Environment and Forestry Ministry estimates medical waste including disposable masks has increased in the country between 30% and 50% since the pandemic began.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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