Chinese PPE makers become greener, trying to limit pollution

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An employee of Chinese face mask maker Dasheng Health Products Manufacture Co works at the company's factory in Shanghai, East China on Friday. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

An employee of Chinese face mask maker Dasheng Health Products Manufacture Co works at the company’s factory in Shanghai, East China on Friday. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

Chinese mask suppliers are taking the lead in promoting eco-friendly products in response to rising concerns over environmental pollution caused by soaring used masks and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE).

As the largest PPE producing and exporting country, China has been an active player in supporting the world with the much-needed anti-pandemic items when many parts of the world are still combating the pandemic.

When global supplies of PPE goods eased after factories in China expanded capacity, some domestic industry participants have gone one step further by coming up with new types of masks that are biodegradable, a move to address the emerging issue of PPE waste worldwide.

Huang Yuhao, president of mask-maker Health Box in East China’s Anhui Province, told the Global Times that it began production of polylactide-based masks that are fully biodegradable.

“Unlike the usual masks made of non-woven or melt-blown cloth, the new masks are made of polylactide, which is often sourced from cornstarch and straw, and therefore is more eco-friendly,” said Huang.

These masks only cost twice as much to produce as traditional ones, and prices are likely to stabilize as a result of mass production.

To guarantee a stable supply chain, Health Box is working closely with China BBCA Group, a large polylactide supplier, which has annual capacity of 700,000 tons.

Huang and his team have received inquiries from business partners in Japan, Spain and Saudi Arabia that have shown interest in the new PPE.

The international environmental protection organization OceanAsia in December said in a report that some 1.56 billion face masks entered the marine environment in 2020.

Marine plastic pollution is destroying our oceans, said Gary Stokes, director of operations for OceansAsia in its report, noting that plastic pollution is estimated to kill 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, more than 1 million seabirds, and many more fish and other animals each year. 

However, in order to export these masks, the absence of product standard verification certificates must be tackled.

Huang said that Health Box needs to have a new CE and certificate for biodegradable material before exporting the masks to European countries, which would take some time to complete.

“Unlike traditional masks that can sustain product testing in an environment of up to 70C, the new material’s melting point is relatively lower, which means the current testing standard for masks may not be suitable” said Huang.

Health Box is not the only Chinese company that produces environmentally friendly PPE.

Shandong Province-based mask supplier SQ Group makes a highly biodegradable mask made of food-grade natural cellulose composite filter paper instead of non-woven fabric, media reports said. The mask is reportedly 98-percent biodegradable. 



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