As we know, in the current coronavirus scenario, all we can do to protect ourselves is to wear face masks and follow social distancing. But how do the frontline coronavirus warriors such as healthcare professionals protect themselves? Yes, you guessed it right. They wear up to three layers of PPE kits, N95 masks, and gloves for protection. The PPE kits used by society today are made out of plastic. Taking cognizance of the situation of plastic pollution in the world, scientists came up with an innovative solution for the disposal of PPE kits.
A recent study published in the peer-reviewed Taylor and Francis journal Biofuels, claims that plastic from PPE kits can be transformed into renewable liquid fuels. Currently, in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, the PPE kits are simply dumped in landfills adding to a load of environmental woes. A solution for the same has been suggested by the experts from The University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. The research shows how the plastic (propylene) used to manufacture PPE kits can be converted into biofuel.
Dr. Sapna Jain, the lead author of the study, says, “Transformation of the plastic from PPE kits into biocrude, a type of synthetic fuel, will not just prevent severe after-effects to humankind and the environment but also produce a source of energy. Presently, the world is focussing to combat COVID-19. However, we can foresee the issues of economic crisis and ecological imbalance also.” She further added to her statement, “We have to prepare ourselves to meet the challenges which are forcefully imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so as to maintain sustainability. There are high production and utilization of PPE kits to protect the community of health workers and other frontline warriors of COVID-19.
Its disposal is a concern owing to its material aka non-woven polypropylene. The proposed strategy is a suggestive measure addressing the anticipated problem of disposal of PPE kits.” In the current scenario, the PPE kits are designed to be disposed of after using once. Once they’re discharged in the landfills and water bodies it’s difficult for microorganisms to dispose them of at ambient temperature. It will take decades for these kits to be decomposed. Several physical and chemical methods are required to dispose of them completely.
For this purpose, the scientists reviewed several research papers to finally formulate a strategy to convert PPE kits to biofuel. The core of the study was to identify what is the structure of polypropylene, why it’s suitable for PPE kits, what threats does it pose to the environment, and how can we recycle it. The study concluded that the most efficient way to dispose of PPE kits is pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the chemical process of breaking down the plastic at high temperatures in the range of 300-400 degrees in an hour in the absence of oxygen. According to the co-author of the study, Dr. Bhawna Lamba, this is the most efficient way to dispose of plastic. She says, “Pyrolysis is the most commonly used chemical methods whose benefits include the ability to produce high quantities of oil which is easily biodegradable.
There is always a need for alternative fuels or energy sources to meet our demands. The pyrolysis of plastic is one such method.” She further added to her statement, “The challenges of PPE kits waste management and increasing energy demand could be addressed simultaneously by the production of liquid fuel from it. The liquid fuel produced from plastics is clean and has fuel properties similar to fossil fuels.” Scientists are currently hustling day and night to find out more about the production of biofuel from PPE kits. Hopefully, they’ll soon come up with a more concrete strategy to combat the problem of environmental pollution by better disposal of plastic.