In a bid to tackle the mounting personal protective equipment (PPE) waste problem that has become a side effect of the ongoing pandemic, a young Canadian company is currently working on the development of a fully-functional, compostable and disposable face mask.
More than 100 billion face masks are estimated to be currently being disposed of every month, of which the vast majority are made from non-compostable polypropylene. A key tool in the fight against COVID-19, these disposable masks are adding significantly to the amount of waste being going into a landfill or being incinerated.
Founded in 2015, Nexe Innovations, a Vancouver-based specialist in plant-based materials science and manufacturing technologies, has now begun the development and prototyping of a new type of mask, dubbed the Nexe Mask by the company, which is 100 percent industrially compostable.
The company has developed the initial prototypes and over the coming months will focus on creating a fully functional prototype face mask that meets international healthcare standards.
Previously, Nexe developed, patented and launched the Nexe pod, claimed by Nexe to be the world’s first compostable single-serve coffee pod. In developing the Nexe Mask, the company is leveraging existing collaborations in polymer science, plant-based materials, and municipal composting that were utilized for its Nexe pod.
“We've built the skills and technologies needed to confront this problem, and are excited to open up a new dimension to our business,” CEO Darren Footz said. “Masks save lives, but there has to be a more sustainable solution.”
The company recently expanded its production facilities, which created enough space to carry out this new project, and will apply the funds raised under the December 2020 financing and received under warrant exercises, to complete the development of the mask. The company aims to complete a functional prototype in 2021.
The prospects for the new product look bright. According to the latest figures from market research firm Grand View Research, the global market for disposable masks exceeded $70 billion in 2020, more than double the size of the market for single-serve beverage pods.
The company has sought collaborations with various established players in materials science, compostability, PPE manufacturing, and healthcare in materials science, compostability, PPE manufacturing, and health care on the project.
Face masks constitute one of the world's fastest-growing sources of plastic waste, said Zachary Hudson, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Chemistry at UBC and Chief Scientific Officer of Nexe.
"Our goal is to develop a disposable facemask that is made from plant-based materials without compromising on safety or comfort.”