French Company Develops Biodegradable Hemp Face Masks
November 2, 2020 in General News
While it is crucial for everyone to wear a mask in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, the presence of millions of discarded single-use masks has led to an environmental nightmare. In this article, I will discuss the impact that these masks have on the ecosystem and will introduce you to a French company that is now producing biodegradable hemp masks.
Here is a shocking statistic:
According to a study published in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, the monthly worldwide usage of single-use, disposable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is approximately 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves. The majority of PPE is made from plastics; polypropylene, polythene, and vinyl.
The Problem with Disposable Single-Use Masks
Disposable single-use masks are not made of paper. They are made of polypropylene, which is a type of plastic. The millions of masks left on the streets in every country will most likely find their way to oceans through sewers and rivers. This will add to the millions of tons of plastic debris that is already clogging up the oceans. The polypropylene will start breaking down into microplastics which ultimately breaks down further into smaller nanoplastics. Just one mask can produce millions of particles. Scientists forecast that these masks may take up to 450 years to biodegrade and to disappear completely.
Proper Disposal of Plastic Masks
No guidance has been given to the public about the proper way to dispose of or recycle these masks safely. They should not simply be thrown into regular dumpsters but collected in containers and disposed of in a way that does not cause a secondary transmission of the virus. They should be treated as “hazardous healthcare waste.”
Epidemiologists are now aware that the virus can survive on plastic masks for as long as seven days. This means that anyone who comes in direct contact with them may contract the virus.
Animals and plants will eventually be affected by the sheer volume of plastic which can throttle their environments and lead to the dismantling of ecosystems. In addition, some animals mistake the pieces of plastic for food or prey and may choke on them. Those animals that do not choke may end up being malnourished because the plastic fills their stomach without providing nourishment. Some of the tinier animals may become trapped by the elastic in masks or in the gloves. More than likely, the outcome will be the transmission of chemicals and bacteria to the creatures up the food chain where it may ultimately affect humans.
Géochanvre F, The French Company Making Hemp Face Masks
The French industrial company, Géochanvre F, started by an agronomist and ecological engineer, Frédéric Roure, is located in Lézinnes, in Yonne. Recognizing the desperate need to reduce plastic pollution, now a global health emergency, they developed a biodegradable face mask made from 100% French natural hemp fibers. Their mission has always been to provide an ethical, ecological, and economic alternative to plastic and fiber products.
The company previously had been producing natural, biodegradable, and bio compostable geotextiles for mulching, planting, and packing. Their production model is one of sustainability and zero-waste industrialization of 100% biodegradable fabrics. Their patented innovative technology uses the process of hydrolysis; spraying water under high pressure to bind plant fibers, requiring no weaving.
They use mainly organic Burgundy hemp and flax which is cultivated within 160 miles of their production facility, a former industrial site. In 2020, the company installed 2 high-tech laser cutters used to cut the hemp canvas and to customize them with logos and texts. On the production line, bails of hemp fiber pass through compressors and over rollers before emerging as hard-packed flat sheets. The laser cuts through the hemp canvas into face mask panels that are then folded by hand.
The First Ecologically, Ethically Produced Mask
- Due to the composition and properties of hemp fibers, no additional material is necessary to ensure it acts as a protective filter
- Composed of a 100% vegetable filtering felt in natural french hemp fibers with no glue, additives, or treatments
- Lined with a soft, protective veil made from compostable cornstarch which provides additional comfort
- The recyclable elastic band which goes around the ears
- The duckbill shape of an FFP2 gives it the advantage of not sticking to the mouth like conventional surgical masks
- Performance controlled by the Dissolved Gas Analysis (DGA)
- Conforms to the Unified Numbering System (UNS) 1 category
- 100% bio compostable to standard 13432; make sure to remove elastic and foam pieces first before composting
- Sold ready-to-use or as a kit, depending on your needs
Safety Features of the Mask
- 98% filtration efficiency level at 3 μm particles
- The air permeability of 165liters / m2 / sec for depression of 100 Pa
- Validated by the General Directorate of Armament
- One piece of hemp felt-lined with a dark protective veil
- 1 elastic recycled band (which may be returned in an airtight plastic bag when ready to dispose of the mask)
- 2 protective pieces of foam; one for the nose and one for the chin
- Fabric weight is 400 g / m² (+/- 10%) with a thickness of 2 mm
- Lots of 50, 100 and 400
- Sold in lots of 50 and 350
The cost is less than one euro or about $0.85 per mask.
Face Mask Sales
Since March 2020, the company has sold 1.5 million hemp masks to customers mostly in Europe and Canada. The intention is to start selling the masks in supermarkets, but at the moment they are only sold in communities and local businesses.
The Last Word From Founder Frédéric Roure
It makes so much sense to use local agricultural, natural materials that will be reabsorbed back into the soil. It is crazy not to ban polyethylene products that are not only harmful to the environment but which are shipped to all the corners of the world..
designboom.com, The Geochanvre Mask Is A Bio-compostable in Natural Hemp Fibers, Aug 20, 2020
wastefreeoceans.org, Plastic Masks Take 450 Years To Decompose in Nature, May 18, 2020