04 feb 2022

HOW TO KEEP PPE FOR CORONAVIRUS OUT OF LANDFILLS THANKS TO NEW RECYCLING SYSTEM

The waste from COVID-19 personal protective equipment is a gigantic problem, says Sara Kiley Watson, assistant editor at PopSci. As of late last year, estimates put the amount of COVID-related plastic waste at about 8 million tons, with around 25,000 tons of that trickling into the ocean. Researchers at Cornell have came up with a brand-new plan to slash some of the PPE waste. They outlined the idea in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews a few days ago.

 

A BRAND-NEW PLAN TO SLASH SOME OF THE PPE WASTE

There are two proposed steps—the first of which is taking waste PPE from hospitals and healthcare centers and depositing it at medical waste processing and decontamination facilities. This is where the masks and other PPE would be sterilized and then shredded into tiny pieces. These tiny pieces would then be sent to an integrated pyrolysis plant. Pyrolysis is the process of heating organic matter without oxygen—which can turn something like a medical gown made from petroleum into a bunch of tinier, useful chemicals. In the case of medical PPE, those useful chemicals include ethylene, propylene, propane, butane, bauxite, gasline, and sulfur.

 

HOW TO REDUCE 31.5 PERCENT OF TOTAL FOSSIL FUEL USE AND 35.04 PERCENT OF TOTAL GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

The most optimal version of the process could cost the state around $4 million. For context, New York City's Department of Sanitation alone used about $2 billion in 2020. And the investment could have some serious benefits — reducing 31.5 percent of total fossil fuel use and 35.04 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions compared to PPE incineration. Additionally, compared to PPE landfilling and incineration processes, 41.52 percent and 47.64 percent less land is needed, respectively. "As the pandemic rages on, and our dependence on better masks follows, every little thing counts to make sure COVID-19 leaves as small a trace on the planet as possible", writes Kiley Watson at PopSci.



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