International Cooperation Aiming for the End of Single-use Facemasks!

Due to Covid-19, the use of billions of disposable facemasks has raised environmental concerns. Throwing away the used masks also means a loss of valuable feedstock for new material. Procter & Gamble, the Fraunhofer Institute UMSICHT and SABIC from Saudi Arabia – entered into a pilot project aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of the closed-loop recycling of single-use facemasks. The pilot will cover collection, shredding, pyrolysis and remanufacturing.

First of all, used facemasks worn by P&G employees and visitors were collected. The used masks were then sent to Fraunhofer for further processing in a research pyrolysis plant. 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. The pyrolysis oil was then sent to SABIC to be used as feedstock for the production of new PP resin – using the widely recognised principle of mass balance.

Mass balance is the critical link between today’s large scale linear economy and the more sustainable circular economy of the future. The entire pilot project was developed and implemented within seven months. Whether advanced recycling can be transferred to to other feedstocks and chemical products is being further researched at Fraunhofer.