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etrëma : a zero waste surgical faced-mask made in Canada

For a long time, the notion of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and recy­cling had no valid place in the med­ical field, but this is no longer the case. After the recy­cling of water used for dial­y­sis, now we have wash­able masks for use in hospitals!

It has been part of our dai­ly life for two years now. It fol­lows us every­where, as soon as we leave our homes, to the point where we hard­ly notice it. And yet, the sur­gi­cal face­mask, so com­mon­place, is also a dis­as­ter for the envi­ron­ment. “About 50,000 are thrown away every sec­ond in the world and degrade, spread­ing their syn­thet­ic fibres in the envi­ron­ment,” says Antoine Palangié. 

For this 1997 UTC grad­u­ate, major­ing in Process Engi­neer­ing (with the elec­tive spe­cial­ty Qual­i­ty Safe­ty Envi­ron­ment), who has always been inter­est­ed in sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, the use of these dis­pos­able masks, whether in med­ical envi­ron­ments or by the gen­er­al pub­lic, is no longer con­ceiv­able today. “With the reduc­tion of green­house gas­es, the prob­lem of dis­pos­able masks in the health sec­tor has been raised for sev­er­al years, and it has become even more glar­ing with the pandemic. 

The prob­lem is that the alter­na­tive to such pol­lut­ing masks is not with­out its faults: “We have seen a pro­fu­sion of wash­able fab­ric face-masks come onto the mar­ket. The prob­lem is that they don’t fil­ter fine par­ti­cles, which are the most dan­ger­ous, they wear out quick­ly when washed, they don’t breathe well enough and there­fore don’t pro­tect the wear­er very well,” Antoine concedes. 

But where some peo­ple give up, oth­ers choose to roll up their sleeves. This is the case of Michelle Sec­ours, head of the tex­tile com­pa­ny Frëtt Solu­tions in Cana­da. Called upon by the Gov­ern­ment in March 2020 to urgent­ly pro­duce reusable masks, she called on Antoine to be the pro­jec­t’s sci­en­tif­ic direc­tor. Enthused by the prospect of mak­ing a real dif­fer­ence, he began look­ing for sup­pli­ers to test all pos­si­ble fabrics. 

While their first choic­es were nat­ur­al fibres, such as cot­ton or hemp (the sub­ject of Antoine’s PhD the­sis), the ini­tial results showed that these did not have suf­fi­cient prop­er­ties to make sur­gi­cal masks or FFPs. But the team is not giv­ing up. “We have come up with a polypropy­lene suit, designed to pro­tect the very fine fibres from wear and tear dur­ing wash­ing. This pre­vents them from being released into the envi­ron­ment or inhaled by the mask wear­er, two major issues for the dura­bil­i­ty of the fil­ter and against microplas­tic pol­lu­tion. Our prod­ucts are also zero waste, because the fab­ric scraps and used masks are recov­ered and recy­cled, for exam­ple into plas­tic acces­sories for bet­ter com­fort when worn for a long time,” explains Antoine. 

The etrë­ma masks can be washed at least 100 times with­out los­ing their effec­tive­ness. “We have cal­cu­lat­ed that using one of our masks saves a min­i­mum of 200 dis­pos­able masks, or more than one to five kilo­grams of plas­tic depend­ing on the type!” 

After hav­ing their face-masks cer­ti­fied accord­ing to sev­er­al stan­dards, Antoine and Michelle are in the process of reg­is­ter­ing a patent for their fil­ter­ing media, which could then be used under licence by oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers, in exchange for guar­an­tees of good envi­ron­men­tal, social and eco­nom­ic prac­tices. “Blue masks” may soon be a thing of the past in the street… but also in hospitals !

Le magazine

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