Disposable masks have always been a necessity during COVID-19, but although they have done a lot of good deeds, their disposal represents a huge ecological challenge, which is largely ignored and replaced by more urgent problems. How should we deal with the hundreds of billions of masks that are used once or twice and then thrown away?
If the study was conducted at the design and manufacturing futures laboratory at the University of Bristol, at least some masks may have a second chance as 3D printing objects. Noting that the ubiquitous blue disposable masks are mainly composed of polypropylene rather than the paper most of us think, the research team set out to determine whether they can handle the masks in such a way that they can finally get a filament that can be printed by a standard 3D printer. Although some fine-tuning remains to be completed, the results so far are impressive; Especially because this technology seems to be within the power of amateurs.
From the mask to the available filament.
The first step in this process, in addition to removing the elastic ear band and any metal strip that may be in the nose, is to heat a pile of masks between two sheets of non stick paper with a traditional iron. This melts the masks together into solid blocks that are easier to use. These solidified masks are then put into a consumer grade mixer to produce fine polypropylene particles suitable for extrusion.
The open source filastruder is installed vertically to squeeze a hopper filled with polypropylene into 1.75 mm filaments. Or at least, it’s an idea. The research team noted that the average filament diameter in the first trial run was only 1.5mm, so they were modifying the nozzle and developing a more powerful feed mechanism to approach the target diameter. Even so, by starting the extrusion multiplier in the slicing software, the team was able to successfully print objects using thin polypropylene filaments.
This is only recycling during a pandemic, and we are very pleased to see this concept further developed. The team noticed that the extrusion temperature of 260 degrees C (500 degrees F) is far behind the temperature required to kill COVID-19. Although you are trying to use the mask you have used, we can imagine that they need to clean in any case. If the hacker and manufacturer community can mass produce personal protective equipment (PPE) using 3D printers in the early stage of the influenza pandemic, it seems appropriate to grind and print some of them into new things now.