Written by Linda S. Hohnholz
In the first 3 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 5,500 metric tons of face masks were produced. At the rate of about 130 billion masks per month, used and potentially contaminated masks were piling up that could not be burned, because doing so would produce toxic gases.
These masks ended up in huge piles on the coasts of Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, France, and the US. So how are these masks that the world continues to use being disposed of?
Masks that are coming out of hospitals are being disposed of by class-A waste management companies. After all, medical facilities have long been dealing with the need to dispose of surgical masks in a safe manner, long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.
But as far as face masks worn today by the general public go, disposal of used one is falling somewhere in a murky area that is below medical waste and usually considered general waste. And as far as personal disposal goes, did you know that you are supposed to put double bag the used mask in two plastic bags that have been tied off before you put it in your trash bin?
Fine, you do that, but then what happens to that mask? It just goes to the same place as general waste. In most places that means to a landfill or an incinerator. And we already know now that it isn’t a good idea to burn them. But hanging around in a landfill could mean toxins leaching into our water supply or washing out and ending up in the oceans where there already is a problem with trash.
In a rather unique twist, researchers from the National University of Science and Technology in Russia partnered with colleagues in the United States and Mexico and developed a technology that can turn mask waste into raw materials. From there, the materials can be recycled into cost-effective batteries.
These batteries are thin and flexible as well as being disposable and can be used throughout the home to power everything from lamps to clocks. These are far better than the traditional metal-coated batteries that are heavier and cost more to produce. The scientists can foresee this new technology to manufacture batteries being applied to other uses such as solar power stations and electric cars.
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