New technology is being developed in Sydney to recycle used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and turn it into raw materials for 3D printing.
Using advanced technology, scientists and engineers can extract materials from discarded and out- of-date masks, gowns, sterile wraps and other hospital equipment to use as the feed stock in the 3D printing process.
This new PPE recycling technology and approach is being established thanks to a collaboration between innovative printing company 3RD Axis and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).
3rd Axis CEO Andrew Cooper said people are becoming increasingly concerned about the large amounts of PPE waste resulting from the Covid pandemic, and their aim was to find a sustainable and useful solution.
“Wearing PPE is now part of our everyday lives, whether we pop on a mask to jump on the bus or to visit the doctor, it’s part of living with Covid. But of course, it also creates the problem of increased landfill and waste,” Mr Cooper said.
“What we’re developing, along with collaborators at ANSTO, is a useful solution to this ever-growing problem. Our goal is to use the raw materials in discarded or out-of-date PPE, such as masks and sterile wraps, as feedstock to produce the filament – or “food” – for 3D printers,” he explained.
“Eventually what it will mean is the mask you’re wearing today could tomorrow become part of a water tank, fence posts, parts for machines – even parts on an airplane.”
3RD Axis is a member of nandin, ANSTO’s Innovation Centre and a recent winner of a NSW Small Business and Innovation Research Grant.
ANSTO’s leader in the Materials Development and Characterisation Gerry Triani says ANSTO has an experienced team of researchers and engineers with expertise in solving technical challenges posed with developing and validating the performance of these recycled materials.
“The challenge is to re-use materials from the single use economy and transform them into durable manufactured articles that have a longer life cycle as the next product,” Mr Triani said.
“The aim of the game is twofold; to reduce landfill and also create a product that is beneficial to both the environment and to the economy”.
The collection and processing of used PPE will include a multi-stage decontamination process before it’s melted at high temperatures and turned into a liquid form to create a material, known as 3D printing polymer filament.
3RD Axis is collaborating with medical waste industry partners to streamline collection and separation processes which can be used in hospitals, medical centres, hotels and emergency services vehicles.
Globally, it’s estimated up to 1.6 million tonnes of plastic waste a day has been generated since the start of the pandemic outbreak and 3.4 billion single use facemasks are discarded daily as a result of COVID-19.
In addition to recycling PPE, the technology being developed by 3RD Axis opens the possibility of recycling other plastics and materials.
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