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Second life for 48 000 mouth masks each day

Microbiologists in the Netherlands, together with Delft University of Technology and recycling major Renewi, have worked overtime in recent weeks to develop a smart model to collect and sterilise mouth masks from hospitals and return them for reuse.

The initiative is seen as a major step to resolve the shortage of such masks in hospitals due to the coronavirus pandemic. Every day, more than 48 000 masks could have a second life.

Medical personnel in a hospital may use a mouth mask only once, after which it must be discarded and incinerated according to strict hygiene guidelines. However, due to the increase in the number of infections with the coronavirus and the increase in patients, hospitals worldwide have been struggling to secure enough masks.

Strict collection rules

Recycling company Renewi supplies hospitals with a plastic container with an inner bag in which the used masks are collected. After both the full bag and the container are disinfected, Renewi picks up the full barrel and drops off a new one. Full containers are delivered to Van Straten Medical and GreenCycl, companies who specialise in the manufacture, repair and supply of surgical instruments, trays and disposables. Here, both the masks and the empty vessel are sterilised.

Hot steam kills coronavirus

The used masks are sterilised at 121 C to kill off the coronavirus microorganisms. The masks remain usable after this process and are 100% reliable for reuse by medical personnel. After sterilisation, they are packed in boxes and returned to the hospitals. The collection and return process takes between 24 and 48 hours.

The sterilisation method has been approved by the Dutch health authority RIVM.

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