Face masks may soon be recycled into prosthetics under NHS green scheme – Evening Standard


urgical face masks could be turned into prosthetics, bed pans, syringes or clogs for theatre staff under a plan being considered by one of London’s biggest NHS trusts.

Imperial College Healthcare is investigating the feasibility of separating the “hundreds of thousands” of masks that are used across its five hospitals each month to allow them to be recycled.

Despite the easing of the pandemic, NHS-wide regulations require the IIR disposable masks — typically light blue with elasticated ear bands and which are fluid-resistant — to be worn throughout the hospital, including by visitors.

More advanced FFP masks are used where there is a risk of contracting Covid. At present, contaminated masks are disposed alongside other used medical items and taken by medical waste contractor Grundon to be turned into energy at a plant near Heathrow.

Imperial hospital chiefs have been given a £44,000 grant by Imperial Health Charity to work with Globus Group, which provides some of its PPE, over the next 18 months on large-scale recycling of the masks. The hope is that they could be turned into medical essentials.

At Imperial, whose hospitals include St Mary’s and Charing Cross, more than 9.8 million IIR face masks were used across a 13-month period in the pandemic. If successful, the project could be rolled out to other trusts. The NHS is committed to being net zero by 2045.

Dr Bob Klaber of Imperial said the trust was determined to minimise waste as part of a commitment to sustainability and reducing its “carbon footprint”. Dr Klaber said the project was one of the first to address the growing issue of plastic waste in hospitals across the NHS arising from the pandemic. He said: “We may discover that collecting all these things isn’t worth it and we are better off sending them to be burned into energy but it feels promising.”

Other ideas being explored include the feasibility of washing and reusing theatre scrubs. Globus said all new products from 2024 would be net zero. Chief executive Haraldur Agustsson said: “We’re proud that this collaboration [with Imperial] marks another positive step in the growing issue of PPE waste.”

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