Johannplasto Turns Disposable Face Masks Into Tools
Watch how this man takes discarded face masks and recycles them into screwdriver sets.
The PPE has become an important part of our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. But with 3 million masks being disposed of every minute, they’ve created an unexpected and huge waste problem.
One man has stepped up to stop these masks from further polluting our environment by turning them into these screwdrivers sets, tightening up our environment one turn at a time.
You might ask, how does a mask make a screwdriver set out of all things? How are these masks contributing to the climate crisis? How are these screwdriver sets made? How does this process help our environment? And what can you do to recycle surgical masks?
Here are the answers.
The Founding of Johannplasto
Thomas Peterberns is the one collecting used, disposable face masks and upcycling them into these everyday tools. In 2021, Thomas founded Johannplasto, a workspace for plastic recycling in Dresden, Germany. There, he works on methods to recycle used plastic and builds the machines used to make products like the cool screwdriver sets we mentioned earlier.
Johannplasto is part of the “precious plastic” network that works with communities to fix local plastic waste problems. The network exchanges ideas and construction plans for plastic processing internationally.
As a mechanical engineer, Thomas specialized in lightweight, fiber-reinforced plastics and saw just how difficult it was to recycle them. And when he saw the increased amount of PPE waste everywhere during the pandemic, he made it his mission to recycle polypropylene surgical masks.
Named after the Johannstadt neighborhood, in Dresden, Germany, and his interest in electric waste recycling “plast” for plastics and “o” for electro, he created Johannplasto to create these one-of-a-kind screwdriver sets that include both the case and the screwdriver.
Upcycling Masks to Screwdriver Sets
To make the screwdriver set, Thomas receives masks from a local school that collects 50-200 masks a week. The masks are received at Johannplasto’s collection point after a minimum of 10 days after use. This is to rid the masks of any virus that they may have.
Why 10 days? Information about how the covid-19 virus can transmit from a surface to a person has been updated a lot since the pandemic started. The CDC says 99% of the virus will die on most non-porous surfaces within 3 days. But out of an abundance of caution, Thomas gives them some extra time.
Next, the masks are sorted with gloves for safety and separated. To make these screwdriver sets, Thomas works with 100 percent polypropylene masks.
The masks are then washed and line-dried. The bands from the side of the masks and the wire from the nose are removed.
The mold is then placed under an injection machine in which the washed masks are folded and inserted. The injection machine is heated to 180 degrees and melted plastic masks are pushed out and injected into the mold. The mold is set aside to cool down for 10 minutes and then demolded.
Next, the screwdriver handle is created using the same process but with a different mold that also holds a metal shaft for the screwdriver bits. Once that molded plastic cools, the bits and sockets are then inserted. You’ve got a screwdriver set and ready to be used!
And the screwdriver set can be re-recycled again and again.
Why Is Recycling Masks So Important?
In 2021, 129 billion masks were being used globally every month. That is 3 million masks thrown away every minute, which we know leads to masks ending up in our environment, freshwater systems, and oceans.
According to OceansAsia, 1.56 billion of those masks have entered oceans in 2020, resulting in up to an additional 6,240 metric tons of marine plastic pollution.
These disposable masks are often made from polypropylene, a fossil fuel-derived plastic, and consist of three layers, the inner layer, middle layer, and outer layer.
These masks can take hundreds of years to disintegrate and break down due to their resistance. Meanwhile, they also shed harmful microplastics into our waterways. which are consumed by our marine life, and anything above in the food chain, including humans.
One single mask left exposed under natural conditions can release more than 1.5 million microplastic into a wet environment like a river or ocean.
Masks can also be mistaken for food by animals which can fill their stomachs, decrease food intake, and could cause them to starve and die. But the threats don’t stop at accidental ingestion. Just look at this bird found in British Columbia that was tangled in a discarded facemask and died after the mask was wrapped around its body and beak.
According to Statista, an estimated 8.4 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste was generated globally during the covid-19 pandemic, and PPE equipment like facemasks was the second-largest contributor at 7.6 percent.
The Impact of Johannplasto
To be part of this solution, Johannplasto has a goal to recycle 1,000 masks each month. 3 months since the start of its production, the company has already collected and made products with 1,000 masks.
So far Johannplasto has produced 100 screwdriver sets and 100 screwdrivers.
Thomas also has a mission to educate people on the big waste problem and to minimize single-use plastic. Not only does Johannplastos’ studio work with masks, they also produce products using other forms of plastic as well.
They’ve got a collection point outside of the studio where locals can drop off their plastic waste. And he wants to set up many more collection points throughout the city, where people can drop off masks and other plastic waste.
What Can You Do To Recycle Surgical Masks?
According to the EPA, here are a few things you can do:
- Safely dispose of used masks in your trash.
- Before you dispose of masks, cut the elastic strap to prevent animal entanglement.
- Don’t toss masks into overflowing trash bins, where they can blow away.
The University of Southern Denmark also shares some great tips:
- Set up mask-only trash cans for collection and disposal.
- Replace disposable masks with reusable face masks like cotton masks.
Learn more about Johannplasto.
UpcycleThis is a series that examines the world’s massive waste problem and inspires solutions by highlighting changemakers around the world who are finding creative ways to use hard-to-recycle materials.Watch more episodes of UpcycleThis.