Turning the tide on PPE waste

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In our latest blog, we look at how researchers in Auckland have found a way to turn unrecyclable PPE into harmless by-products. Learn more below...

Is it possible to turn unrecyclable PPE into water and vinegar?

There’s a big problem right now. Single-use PPE is being dumped in huge amounts into landfill sites every single day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported it’s now in the region of tens of thousands of tonnes.

It hasn’t come as a surprise. With unprecedented demand for PPE during the pandemic, without a real focus on where it will end up, it was always going to happen.

Could this have been avoided with better planning and more public education on what to do with used PPE? Perhaps. But with so much PPE designed for single use, it’s clear we also need better solutions when it comes to recycling and destroying used PPE.

Fortunately, it looks like there could be light at the end of this PPE tunnel, and the solution is nothing short of extraordinary!

Single-use masks and disposable gloves are a recycling challenge, as they cost more for local recyclers to collect and process than the materials are worth. But researchers in Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering in New Zealand have been able to turn single-use PPE into harmless by-products*.

This could be the revolutionary answer many of us hoped for, and we love sustainable innovation. It could save tonnes of PPE ending up in landfills and oceans, and maybe even solve the problem of PPE waste completely.

We like to know the science behind solutions, so here’s how it works…

Shredded PPE materials from gloves, masks, gowns, and safety glasses are fed into a machine. The machine then applies pressurized hot water and compressed air, generating nothing but H2O and acetic acid, the main component in vinegar. The whole process only takes an hour.

Other harmless by-products created include oxygen and some CO2. But even this waste is destroyed during the hydrothermal deconstruction/valorisation process. As if it couldn’t get any better, the acetic acid, or “vinegar”, can be used for disinfecting, and the water reused for the process itself.

Even after the Covid-19 pandemic is finally behind us, we need to spread the word to help move sustainable PPE solutions out of the lab and into global practice. This will better prepare us for any future waves of PPE distribution and turn the tide on the mounting pile of landfill.

We’re on our own mission to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Some of our workwear range includes 100% recycled material made from polyester, and even recycled bottles! On the road to net zero, we can also offer some customers the collection and secure disposal of their textiles, garments, and PPE.

Instead of being thrown away, these items are collected, shredded, and recycled. The collected materials are then either used in the manufacturing of other garments, clothes, and textiles, or used to manufacture other products, turned into chips and melted, or used to generate energy (RDF).

*Source: Converting Unrecyclable PPE into Harmless Byproducts (azocleantech.com)


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