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Managing COVID-related PPE waste through energy recovery and providing hemp face mask as an alternate: innovation and employability.

Authors: Fatema Khatun, Kazi Ifthi Arafat, Bristy Ghosh, Fatema Tuz Zhora, Rabeya Gulshan Ara, Eco Talukder, Effath Jahan Shomi, MD. Anwar Ibrahim Miraz, Sara Zabeen.

Every year, around 300 million metric tons of plastics are manufactured for various consumptions (Singh & Sharma, 2016). Polyethylene (PE) and Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS) resins, Polyester, Polyamide, and Acrylic fibers (PP&A) are some of the most commonly produced materials (Hossain et al., 2020). The issue is that these components can take up to 1000 years to decompose, which has a direct impact on environmental pollution and consequent climate change (Browne et al., 2011; Laurance, 2019).

Problem Statement
The current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in widespread use of single-use plastics such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), commonly used in clinical settings. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), PPE materials will increase by 40% each month to effectively combat the pandemic (Markets and Markets, 2020). Bangladesh, a lower middle-income country with one of the world’s largest populations, has already suffered from poor biomedical waste management, but is now being seriously impacted by the sudden exposure to the massive COVID-19 plastic garbage. A recent survey showed that COVID-19 generated 890 tons of single-use masks and shopping bags as waste on March alone (European Environment Agency, 2021). Another study found that 13% Bangladeshis lost their jobs and another 45% had a reduced income due to this pandemic (BIDS, 2020; The Daily Star, 2020).

The objectives of this study are: a) better manage COVID-related single-use biomedical plastic waste by employing an energy recovery method, b) making face masks from hemp, which is easily biodegradable, so these masks will help to reduce plastic pollution and ensure environmental justice, c) focusing on local women’s employment so that women can contribute to family maintenance- ending gender discrimination and ensuring equality. This study directly relates to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 like SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth, and SDG 13: Climate action.

This study employed a narrative literature review. We searched Google and Google Scholar by using the key phrases “hemp as an alternative to plastic” and “waste management and energy recovery from single use face mask”. We also solicited expert advice on hemp fiber extraction and its potential in the Bangladesh agricultural sector to replace single-use plastic masks, and how to create jobs. The outcomes have been used to propose a sustainable process to manage single-use mask waste and produce hemp-masks in Bangladesh that will also create employability.

The narrative review yielded 27 papers. Results suggest that for the energy recovery process, pyrolysis can be used to manage single-use mask and other PPE.
This study also found that hemp mask is a viable alternative to single-use mask. We found three major steps were involved in hemp-mask production: a) cultivation, b) fiber extraction, c) fiber formation.
By cultivating 750 plants on 5 katha lands, 100 kg fibers will be yielded. This fiber will be used to make 5000 reusable face masks and it will only cost BDT 269,200. If each mask is sold for BDT 75, there will be a profit of BDT 105,800. This project will employ 20 people as well.

Hemp fiber has the potential to be a viable alternative to plastics given it is considered the most sustainable crop in the world.

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