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Recycling face masks for manufacturing FlaxPP eco-composites

ElHawary, Omar; Bakthavatchaalam, Venkat

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Omar ElHawary


SDGs addressed: 9, 11, 12, 14 and 15.
The severe increase in the pollution caused by the discarded face masks during COVID-19 cannot be overstated. This research provides an innovative engineering solution to this issue by recycling polypropylene, the primary plastic found in the facemasks to manufacture eco-composite by reinforcing it with natural flax fibers. This research brings together the three pillars of sustainability through an engineering perspective.
Flax fibers were chosen as the most suitable natural fiber for polypropylene reinforcement due to their favorable mechanical properties, their abundance as a plant in Northern Europe also reducing the carbon footprint of the product. The mechanical properties of the ‘Flax fibre reinforced polypropylene composite material’, named FlaxPP, were analysed using software simulations and mathematical calculations. Based on these results, currently, physical manufacturing of samples of the FlaxPP material is being carried out for further analysis and testing, specifically investigating the interesting vibration damping properties.
The findings show relatively high stiffness of the natural fibre reinforced material. The stiffness of the isotropic composite laminate was found to be 6.993 GPa. A failure study was done to calculate the stresses required for first ply failure and ultimate ply failure, which were found to be at 18.043 MPa and 20.167 MPa, respectively. Thus, showing the potential for the material to be a used as a more sustainable alternative to the existing materials in automotive interiors, mobility devices and sports equipment etc.
The research and development of a FlaxPP composite material could help with improving global resource efficiency in consuming plastic products by diversifying the recycling paths and encouraging more sustainable businesses to utilize this material in their products, thus deriving economic growth from environmental recovery as opposed to environmental degradation. At policy level, it is possible to set up collaborations between local governments and city councils with the manufacturers of such materials to recycle the masks for a financial incentive as well as the environmental one, as removing the masks from cities is important to prevent damage to wildlife and rivers that could be contaminated by infection due to the COVID-19 virus and injured by the masks.


ElHawary, O., & Bakthavatchaalam, V. (2022, May). Recycling face masks for manufacturing FlaxPP eco-composites. Poster presented at United Nations University: Nexus Conference, Dresden/Online

Presentation Conference Type Poster
Conference Name United Nations University: Nexus Conference
Conference Location Dresden/Online
Start Date May 23, 2022
End Date May 25, 2022
Deposit Date Jun 24, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jun 24, 2022
Keywords Recycling; face masks; manufacturing; FlaxPP; eco-composites
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