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Giving used FFP2 face masks a second life

Fully recyclable meltblown polypropylene and collect-and-recycle scheme established in Austria.

13th April 2022

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Lustenau, Austria

Protective, Medical/Hygiene

Borealis, one of the world’s leading providers of polyolefins, is teaming up with the Grabher Group to minimise the waste involved in the production of protective facemasks.

The key component of the facemasks produced by Grabher in Austria is now being made of fully recyclable meltblown polypropylene (PP) supplied by Borealis.

To further drive circularity, Grabher has also initiated a collect-and-recycle scheme for used facemasks in order to recycle them into products such as oil absorption materials.

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) were imminent, Grabher became the first Austrian company to establish a dedicated facemask assembly facility which included a state-of-the-art meltblown production system for the manufacture of high-quality facemasks.

These certified masks, including FFP2 filtration respirators, medical and washable community masks, are marketed by Vprotect, a 100%-owned member of the Grabher Group.

One essential component of the Vprotect masks – the filter made of densely spaced micron-sized fibres – is made of meltblown PP supplied by Borealis, a material which is itself fully recyclable.

Yet for obvious health reasons, even high-quality and more sustainable face masks are quickly disposed of. Far too many find their way into landfills or even natural environments.

Grabher’s return and collection scheme, which is to be rolled out across Austria in the near future, will feature clearly marked collection boxes into which all types of face masks can be deposited.

After sorting, washing, sterilising and drying, the material will be used as filler material for cushioning and oil absorption applications. Development is currently ongoing to process the masks into granulate which can be turned into absorption fabrics using the meltblown process.

“Borealis and Grabher have taken yet another step to closing the loop on plastics circularity by maintaining our focus on sustainable solutions which benefit society,” said Vedran Kujundzic, Borealis vice president of commercial performance materials.

“We are proud to have responded so quickly to the urgent need for PPE and FFP2 masks at the start of the pandemic in Austria,” added Günter Grabher, managing director of the Grabher Group. “In the meantime, we are gratified that our collect-and-recycle initiative continues to attract numerous other participants, including OMV, a major food retail group, and several large hospitals.”

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