Face mask waste

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Environmental cost of disposable masks

Disposable masks are causing problems for the environment. Know more…

Thursday, 22nd July 2021

Since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic last year, masks and other personal protective equipment have become a necessity for medical personnel. The demand for disposable N95 masks is particularly high to help prevent the spread of SARS CoV2 (the virus that causes Covid19).

All these masks will bring economic and environmental costs. The Covid19 pandemic is estimated to generate up to 7,200 tons of medical waste each day, most of which are disposable masks. Even if the pandemic has slowed in some parts of the world, medical personnel are expected to continue to wear masks most of the time.

According to a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this loss can be greatly reduced by adopting reusable masks. The study calculated the financial and environmental costs of several different mask use scenarios. Compared to wearing a new mask every time you touch a patient, disinfecting conventional N95 masks so that medical personnel can wear them for more than a day can reduce costs and environmental waste by at least 75%.

Also Read: Is global plastic pollution approaching an irreversible tipping point?

Giovanni Traverso, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said: “Perhaps not surprisingly, methods that include reusable aspects not only save costs to the greatest extent and can significantly reduce waste. "and the study's lead author.

The study also found that fully reusable N95 silicone masks can further reduce waste. Traverso and his colleagues are now developing this non-commercial mask.

Jacqueline Chu, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, is the lead author of the study, which was published in the open edition of the British Medical Journal.


Reduce and reuse

In the early stages of the Covid19 pandemic, N95 masks were in short supply. In many hospitals, medical staff is forced to wear masks throughout the day instead of replacing them with a new one for every patient they see. Later, some hospitals including MGH and Boston Brigham and Women's Hospital began to use decontamination systems, using hydrogen peroxide vapor to disinfect masks. This allows you to wear a mask for a few days.

Last year, Traverso and his colleagues began to develop a reusable N95 mask, which is made of silicone rubber and contains an N95 filter that can be discarded or disinfected after use. The design of the mask allows it to be sterilized by heat or bleach and reused many times.

"Our vision is that if we have a reusable system, we can reduce costs," Traverso said. “Most disposable masks also have a significant impact on the environment and take a long time to degrade. During a pandemic, protecting people from viruses is a priority. This is of course still a priority, but in the long run, We must catch up, do the right thing, seriously consider and minimize the potential negative impact on the population."

Also Read: Delhi Paints Dire Picture With Worrying Spike in Levels of NO2 in Air.

Throughout the pandemic, US hospitals have been using different mask strategies, depending on the availability of N95 masks and the use of decontamination systems. Happening. The MIT team decided to simulate the impact of various different scenarios, covering the previous wearing patterns during the pandemic, including one N95 mask each time the patient is exposed; one N95 mask per day; repeated use of N95 masks through UV disinfection; passed Hydrogen oxide disinfection reuses N95 masks and a surgical mask every day.

They also simulated the potential cost and waste of the reusable silicone masks they are developing now, which can be used with disposable or reusable N95 filters.

According to their analysis, if every medical worker in the United States wears a new N95 mask for every patient they encounter in the first six months of the pandemic, the total number of masks required will be approximately 7.4 billion. The cost is the US $ 6.4. billion. This will result in 84 million kilograms of waste (equivalent to 252 Boeing 747 aircraft).

They also found that any reusable mask strategy will significantly reduce costs and waste. If all medical personnel can reuse N95 masks that have been disinfected with hydrogen peroxide or ultraviolet rays, the cost will drop to $ 1.4 billion to $ 1.7 billion in six months, and 13 to 18 million kilograms will be generated waste (equivalent to 39 to 56747 seconds).

If you use N95 silicone reusable masks, these numbers can be further reduced, especially if the filter is also reusable. The researchers estimate that within six months, this type of mask can reduce the cost to 831 million dollars and reduce waste to 1.6 million kilograms (about five 747).

"For the foreseeable future, masks will continue to exist, so we must incorporate sustainability into their use and use other disposable personal protective equipment that generates medical waste," Chu said.

Also Read: With the rise of space tourism, environmental problems are exacerbated.

Environmental burden

The data used by the researchers for this study was collected during the first six months of the pandemic in the United States (from late March 2020 to late September 2020). Their calculations are based on factors such as the total number of healthcare workers in the United States, the number of Covid19 patients at that time, and the length of stay in each patient. Their calculations do not include any data on the use of masks by the public.

"Our focus here is on healthcare workers, so it may underestimate the total cost and environmental burden," says Traverso.

Although vaccination can help reduce the spread of Covid19, Traverso believes that for the foreseeable future, medical personnel can continue to wear masks to prevent not only Covid19 but also other respiratory diseases such as influenza.

He and others founded a company called Teal Bio, which is currently working to improve and test its reusable silicone masks and develop methods for mass production. They plan to seek regulatory approval for this mask later this year. Traverso said that while cost and environmental impact are important factors to consider, the effectiveness of the masks should also be prioritized.

"Ultimately, we want the system to protect us, so it is important to understand whether the decontamination system will affect filtering capacity," he said. "No matter what you wear, you need to make sure that what you wear protects you and others."

This research was supported by the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the National Institutes of Health, and the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering. Other authors of this article include Omkar Ghenand, a college student at MIT; Joy ??Collins, senior clinical research coordinator at Brigham and Women's Hospital and former MIT technical assistant; James Byrne, radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Research Affiliated Institution of the Koch Institute for Comprehensive Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Adam Wentworth, a research engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a research facility at the Koch Institute; Peter Chai, a doctor in the emergency room of Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Farah Dadabhoy, MIT Research Affiliate; and Chin Hur, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Columbia University.


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