The global use of personal protection equipment (PPE) has skyrocketed due to COVID-19, propelling the industry to revenues of more than £8bn in the UK alone, and although a coronavirus vaccine now seems closer, PPE is likely to remain a part of our everyday lives.
Most PPE materials are single use, contain plastics, are not easily recyclable and end up in our landfills, or worse yet, discarded into the environment.
There are several researchers attempting to address this problem. For example one we have covered previously in The Orkney News Scientists Search For Solution to PPE Sterilisation
For the general public face masks and coverings don’t need the stringent regulations that are required for PPE in social and health care. Citizens can make their own or buy one – and preferably these should be reusable ones that you can put in the washing machine.
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Developing New PPE Materials
A project led by researchers at James Hutton Limited, the commercial subsidiary of the James Hutton Institute, in collaboration with industry partners CelluComp Ltd and Halley Stevensons is developing multiuse, washable, environmentally friendly PPE materials, with funding from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.
The project will research the development of completely new PPE materials which offer improved safety and comfort by being highly absorbent, breathable and able to actively kill viruses and bacteria.
Dr Andrew Love, a research leader at the James Hutton Institute and principal investigator of the project, explains:
“It is estimated that if each person in the UK uses a single disposable mask each day for a year this would result in 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste, which would be a reservoir of infection, and have ten-fold more of a climate change impact than reusable masks.
“Interestingly, most of current PPE materials are prone to ‘wetting out’ and are poorly absorbent, which raises transmission risks.
“Likewise, there are very few antiviral PPE technologies readily available in the public domain and those that are suffer from complex manufacturing methods, high expense, poor reusability, poor washability and rapidly lose their antiviral activities.
“It is crucial that new PPE is made from existing waste streams, be multiuse, re-washable, compostable, recyclable and cheap, thereby reducing their environmental burden and supporting the emergent bioeconomy for new products.”
This work builds on the Institute’s existing body of research and patent portfolios with industry partners, while also enabling scientists to identify interesting antiviral and antibacterial properties which will later be investigated to unpick new pathways to control viruses and other pathogens.