With more than 85,000 COVID-19 cases and 6,450 deaths in Canada, researchers from the University of British Colombia, Canada develop biodegradable medical masks to boost medical supply line and local economy.
Shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the work of health care professionals around the globe. This has led the discovery and invention of environmental friendly PPE, with a focus on local manufacturing and cost-effectiveness.
Recent reports have shown that millions of medical masks and plastic gloves have been polluting both land and sea worldwide. As COVID-19 pandemic grew, the use of plastic based PPE increased both in the healthcare sector and the public sphere, which led to generation of huge amounts of plastic waste in urban centers, rivers, and oceans. Only environmental friendly alternatives to traditional medical masks is the only viable solution for reducing the harmful impact on our natural environment.
Environmental friendly medical masks in Canada
Scientists at the BioProducts Institute (BPI) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have designed the world’s first completely compostable (N95 type) biodegradable medical mask that can be sourced and manufactured entirely in Canada. This new medical mask is called Can-mask and is made up of British Colombia province’s wood fibers like cedar, pine, spruce, and recycled paper. Development of this new medical mask resulted from a combined effort of a multidisciplinary team, which included researchers from the faculties of applied science, forestry and science at UBC.
BPI is an institute of UBC focusing upon providing solutions to modern day environmental and climate challenges.
Two versions of the Can-mask, one using a commercial N95 filter and the other using a wood fiber based filter designed by University of British Columbia researchers. Both versions are currently under testing to determine if they meet health industry specifications. with a plan to incorporate these in Canada’s healthcare system. Mask prototyping is almost complete, and a transformation to cost-effective scaling and manufacturing is in the works.
With more than 85,000 coronavirus cases of in Canada, the PPE is in short supply. In March, Ottawa government passed an interim order that allowed the import of face shields, gowns and medical masks, and to be sold in Canada even if they do not meet Health Canada’s pre-pandemic standards. As of April 30, Health Canada had imported 1.8 billion units of personal protective equipment, while most these supplies came from China.
“With increasing tensions during a pandemic, international supply lines for medical masks can break down, creating shortages of supplies on a local level,” says researcher Johan Foster, an associate professor in the faculty of applied science at UBC. “When we planned to create a medical mask in March, we knew that the mask should be easy to produce using locally available materials, inexpensive, compostable and biodegradable.”
“If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the significance of having PPEs like N95 respirators and medical masks,” says Orlando Rojas, scientific director of BPI and a professor with at UBC. “The Can-Mask is a promising solution, as it uses locally available B.C. wood, which has a potential to create new jobs in Canada and advance our future bioeconomy within the province.”
Dr. Rojas says that innovations like Can-mask that uses abundant, sustainable and biodegradbale natural materials will reduce the environmental impact of used and discarded plastic medical masks, as littered PPE has plagued communities since the COVID-19 pandemic started. “The traditional plastic based medical masks are disposed off, and eventually end up as microplastics, leading to huge environmental pressure,” he said.
UBC researchers develop biodegradable medical mask for COVID-19
Lou Corpuz-Bosshart | May 21, 2020 | University of British Colombia