SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Korea Bizwire) — Face masks that used to symbolize the pandemic era are now turning into a source of environmental harm.
The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) reported that each South Korean citizen used a new disposable mask every 2.3 days on average last year. More than 7.3 billion masks were thrown away in a single year.
Disposable masks are typically made from polypropylene, a synthetic resin produced by polymerization of propylene. It takes around 450 years for them to decompose.
Burning them is also a problem. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that burning 1 ton of masks emits 3.07 tons of greenhouse gas.
The ACRC has made a policy proposal to find ways to recycle used masks, after ensuring public health safety.
Kolon Industries Inc., a textile and chemical materials maker, estimates that recycling used masks to produce 1 ton of polypropylene products will cut carbon emissions by 2.7 tons.
Profitability is the issue at hand. Recycling 1 kilogram of used masks can produce recycled pellets worth 100 won (US$77,940).
Separating non-plastic parts, such as metal pins, from used masks is quite costly. For now, mask recycling companies can barely make a profit.
Lowering the cost of recycling, and higher demand among companies and consumers for products made from recycled pellets are seen as crucial to overcoming the current situation.
H. M. Kang (email@example.com)