Cátia Araújo, José Pedro Araújo and Juliana Silva, 15-18 years old | Escola Secundária D. Sancho I
The Center for the Valorisation of Waste of the University of Minho and TO-BE-GREEN started a project for the collection and recovery of used masks: “Collect and Value”.
With the new pandemic reality, the use of personal protective equipment is increasing, especially the number of disposable masks. According to Greenmatters (1), only in 2020, more than 1.56 billion used masks ended up in the oceans. To counteract this reality, the project “Recolher e Valorizar” arose, which resulted from the partnership between the Centre for Waste Recovery of the University of Minho (CVR), TO-BE-GREEN – spinoff of the University of Minho (SPINUM) and start-up active in the area of recovery of used clothing – and Givaware.
António Dinis Marques, professor at the University of Minho and CEO of TO-BE-GREEN, explained in an interview that the idea of recycling used masks was inspired by the French company Plaxtil (2), which transforms disposable masks into visors. He also explained that this initiative began in September 2020, in Colégio da Via Sacra, in Viseu, which in December was hosted by ten schools in Covilhã, and then advanced to all schools in the municipality of Guimarães, in collaboration with Laboratório da Paisagem and VITRUS. He also added that, although this project is more directed to the school environment, there are companies that have joined and others that are interested.
How does the “Collect and Recover” project work?
According to António Dinis Marques, it all starts with the collection of the masks, which should be placed in a container developed for this purpose. According to Nuno Silva, researcher from the Landscape Lab, these containers are made of mixed recycled plastic. They have two partitions: a brown column for disposable masks and a green one for social masks.
When it is relatively full, the schools contact TO-BE-GREEN, responsible for the collection, and then they are transported to the CVR. Here they are quarantined to ensure the safety of the employees who will be working with them. In the event of an active outbreak, they cannot be recycled. The masks are separated based on their composition and subjected to tests for subsequent recovery. The disposable ones are ground, melted by an extruder that transforms them into a polymer, and finally they are passed through a high pressure press, originating polymeric plates that can be used for new design products.
In another valorisation process, the social masks are ground, mixed with sawdust and pressed in order to produce briquettes, culminating in an energetic valorisation. However, these masks are still being investigated by students from the University of Minho in order to find new destinations.
It is estimated that 15 to 20kg of masks have already been collected in pilot projects. Although it seems a relatively low number, it should be taken into account that the social masks weigh approximately 15g, but the disposable ones weigh around 3.4g, and these are the ones that constitute the majority of the collected masks (99%), according to António Dinis Marques.
If your school would like to join this environmentally friendly initiative, please contact your local municipality to make contact with TO-BE-GREEN (4)!