Heriot-Watt University and Manchester-based Globus Group – Britain’s largest manufacturer of plastic PPE – have announced a partnership to prevent plastic PPE waste from going to landfill.
Since the start of the pandemic, an estimated 8.4 million tons of plastic waste has been generated from 193 countries. Most of this waste ends up in landfills or, in some areas, the ocean.
In an effort to address this, the teams are developing a process that will convert this waste into a secondary feedstock called pyrolysis oil, which can then be refined into new commercial products such as new PPE products or fuels.
“We will work closely with our commercial partner Globus Group to develop a tailor-made process that will be applied to PPE plastic waste that cannot currently be mechanically recycled due to various technological, economic or environmental reasons,” explains Dr Aimaro Sanna, an assistant professor from. in chemical and process engineering (EPS) from Heriot-Watt University.
Initially, the research – supported by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships program – will help recycle more than 100 tonnes of product generated annually by the manufacturing process – the equivalent of 10 kg of waste per hour. However, the long-term hope is that the process will be more widely adopted. “Many countries have not managed to properly process their PPE from plastic waste. Our groundbreaking research aims to address these challenges and provide an exemplary technique for global application,” added Prof. Sanna.
As part of the initiative, Globus Group – which has produced one billion medical masks and 300 million FFP respirators each year for the UK since the start of the pandemic – has implemented innovative sustainable thermal heating technology at its Alpha Solway plant in Golborne in the North West. England.
Developed by Thermal Compaction Group (TCG), the machine is designed to heat and compress the plastic polypropylene into large, reusable blocks. These are then collected and processed, resulting in raw materials that Globus Group can use to make new PPE products, reducing the company’s PPE waste by an estimated 85%.
Pete Lee, Head of Quality at Globus Group, said: “We recognize our responsibility to the NHS and support it in delivering a ‘net zero’ sustainable future and the long-term wellbeing of future generations. This technology will be a real game changer in the way we handle our PPE waste.”