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Face masks have become a key tool in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic but they are also proving a major new source of pollution, with used masks seen littering streets, countryside and waterways across the world. Now, a French start-up believes it has a solution.
Since mid-July Plaxtil, a firm in Châtellerault, centre-west France, has been recycling thousands of face masks, turning the potentially hazardous waste into useful products.
“We said to ourselves: it's not possible, it's not inevitable that these masks will end up either in nature or incinerated,” Plaxtil co-founder Olivier Civil told AFP.
“We can recycle them, we can do something with this material and we can renew their value.”
Plaxtil was launched in November 2019, and specialises in recycling clothes by turning them into a plastic-like material – also called Plaxtil. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it switched to recycling masks instead.
First, the masks are collected and placed in “quarantine” for four days. They are then ground down into small pieces and subjected to ultraviolet light to ensure they are completely decontaminated before the recycling process begins.
"Concretely, we take fabrics, so clothes – or now, masks – we collect them, we grind them down, mix them with a binding materia,l and we transform them into a material that is called Plaxtil, which can be used in industry and moulded like normal plastic,” said Civil.
Plaxtil says the masks could be turned into a vast array of different objects, but for the moment it is turning them into products that can be used in the fight against Covid, such as plastic visors.
Plaxtil says it has already recycled more than 50,000 masks, producing between 2,000 and 3,000 recycled products since the end of June.
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