New Greener Recycling for Medical PPE Waste, say engineers


With the continued ravage of COVID-19 pandemic, the waste stream of plastic face shields, surgical masks, medical gloves, and gowns seems to be ever growing. A team of engineers at Cornell have proposed a solution for sustainable rerouting of discarded material.

The use of pyrolysis – a reaction that employs medium temperature converts the plasticized medical protection products into an original form such as petroleum and chemicals. Following this, the process then recycles the medical waste into fuels, says the study.

The method is free of incineration or use of landfill.

“The volume of disposing used medical PPE is enormous,” stated a co-author of the paper. Fast pyrolysis is proven to effectively change waste PPE into value-added original products. The method can replace PPE from sent to landfills or for incineration.

In the first stage, the focus of the framework of the study is New York State. The framework of the study proposes to collect PPE from hospitals and medical centers, and then send it to pre-processing and decontamination centers in New York or Suffolk counties.

The PPE equipment would be shredded, sterilized, and dehydrated at these centers to become small particles, and then brought back to an integrated pyrolysis plant like the one in Rockland County.

Employing the model proposed by the engineers, the medium-temperature pyrolysis can deconstruct the plasticized gloves and gowns, which are obtained from petroleum into butane, ethylene, bauxite, diesel, propene, sulfur, and light naphtha.

For understanding purpose, pyrolysis is similar to baking food in an oven. If the oven temperature is set very high, the meat becomes hard and charcoal. But if oven is set at a lower temperature, the meat will be juicy. The temperature is the trick for pyrolysis, as well.

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