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Recycling: Partnership gives used face masks another life

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Autor: Isabell Hochstrat

The key component of the high-quality, filtrating face masks produced by Grabher in Austria is made of fully recyclable meltblown polypropylene (PP) supplied by Borealis. © Grabher
The key component of the high-quality, filtrating face masks produced by Grabher in Austria is made of fully recyclable meltblown polypropylene (PP) supplied by Borealis. © Grabher

Mask manufacturer Grabher has launched a novel collection and recycling program for used face masks in Austria. The key component of the masks is made from fully recyclable meltblown polypropylene (PP) from Borealis.

Plastics circularity through collaboration

The Vorarlberg, Austria-based Grabher Group is a leading expert in nano-air and micro-liquid filtration and designs smart-textile systems for the manufacture of medical and healthcare products, among others. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Austria were imminent. Grabher acted by becoming the first Austrian company to establish a dedicated face mask assembly facility which included a state-of-the-art meltblown production system for the manufacture of high-quality face masks. These certified masks, including FFP2 filtration respirators, medical masks, and washable community masks, are marketed by Vprotect, a 100%-owned member of the Grabher Group. One essential component of the Vprotect masks – the filter made of densely spaced micron-sized fibres – is made of meltblown PP supplied by Borealis, a material which itself is fully recyclable.

A new return and collection system for used masks

Yet for obvious health reasons, even high-quality and more sustainable face masks are quickly disposed of. Far too many find their way into landfills or even natural environments. To combat the problem of growing volumes of mask waste, Grabher again took action by creating a new return and collection system for used masks in order to recycle them into new, value-added products. The scheme, which is to be rolled out across Austria in the near future, features clearly marked collection boxes into which all types of face masks may be deposited. After sorting, washing, sterilising and drying, the material is used as filler material for cushion and oil absorption applications. Development is currently ongoing to process the masks into granulate which may be turned into absorption fabrics using the meltblown process. These recycled fabrics may be used to absorb oil – for example due to a spill – or other liquids.

Reliable partnership

“Our partnership with Grabher is the embodiment of circular thinking,” claims Vedran Kujundzic, Borealis Vice President Commercial Performance Materials. “Using our fully recyclable meltblown PP to manufacture high-quality masks helps protect human health, and finding a way to use them again protects our planet. Together, Borealis and Grabher have taken yet another step to closing the loop on plastics circularity by maintaining our focus on sustainable solutions which benefit society.”

“We are proud to have responded so quickly to the urgent need for PPE and FFP2 masks, in particular, at the start of the pandemic in Austria,” says Günter Grabher, Managing Director of the Grabher Group. “In the meantime, we are gratified that our collect-and-recycle initiative continues to attract numerous other participants, including OMV, a major food retail group, and several large hospitals. In Borealis, we have found a reliable partner who shares our commitment to both innovation and sustainability, and we look forward to continued collaboration.”

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