MANILA (BLOOMBERG) – Fibre from a relative of the banana tree could replace plastic in millions of face masks and hospital gowns the world is making to fight the coronavirus.
Abaca – a fibre from the Philippines used in teabags and banknotes – is as durable as polyester but will decompose within two months, said Philippine fibre agency head Kennedy Costales.
“With this pandemic, if we all buy masks made of synthetic fibre, they will pile up in dumpsites because they take so long to decompose,” said Mr Costales.
Global efforts to ban single-use plastics have retreated as nations prioritised hygiene over the environment for packaging and medical supplies, creating a bright spot for chemical companies such as LyondellBasell Industries and Trinseo.
Sales of disposable face masks are set to rise more than 200-fold worldwide this year to US$166 billion (S$229 billion), according to a United Nations trade article, citing consultancy Grand View Research.
Companies have been reluctant to replace plastic with biodegradable alternatives because of concern about cost and whether the new materials are sufficiently strong and effective for medical use.
A preliminary study by the Philippine Department of Science and Technology showed abaca paper to be more water resistant than a commercial N-95 mask, and to have pore sizes within the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended range to filter hazardous particles.
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