People wear face masks as they walk along a street in Montreal, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Canadian forestry invents biodegradable mask filter, aims for full mask by Christmas

FPInnovations filter won’t meet either N95 or surgical-mask standards, but that work is ongoing

A Quebec-based forestry innovation organization says it has figured out how to make a single-use face mask filter out of fully-biodegradable wood products.

Stéphane Renou, the president of FPInnovations Inc., says it could be a game-changer for the environment and for a made-in-Canada supply of masks.

“The impact could be massive,” he said, in an interview. “The amount of masks used around the world is just gigantic.”

Earlier this year an article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology estimated that during the COVID-19 pandemic people are throwing out 129 billion face masks every month, some of which become litter that eventually washes into oceans.

Canada alone has ordered more than 153 million N95 respirators, almost 400 million surgical masks and 18 million non-medical face masks. That doesn’t include demand from the private sector.

The FPInnovations filter won’t meet either N95 or surgical-mask standards, though Renou said that work is ongoing.

Currently the vast majority of disposable face masks have two outer layers with a filter between them, all made from woven plastic fibres.

Renou says over eight weeks this summer 20 FPInnovations employees created, tested and then perfected a filter made entirely from various wood pulps, that can block 60 per cent of small particles.

He says they are now working on the two outer layers and hope to have a full mask completed by the end of the year.

FPInnovations is a non-profit research and development organization that counts as members more than 180 forest companies and related firms. The mask project came up when employees wanted to do something to help with Canada’s COVID-19 response efforts, said Renou.

It received about $1 million in funding from Natural Resources Canada to do the filter development, and another $2 million more recently to expand that work to include the outer layers of the mask.

Renou said the filters can be easily made on existing machines, many of which also make toilet paper. The filters are made of wood pulp from both hardwood and softwood trees.

There are companies around the world trying to make more environmentally friendly masks. A company in Vietnam claims to have made reusable, biodegradable and antibacterial face masks using coffee beans.

In June, researchers at the University of British Columbia also said they were seeking Health Canada approval for a medical-grade face mask made of wood products.

The FPInnovations mask filter is being tested by non-government agencies at the moment, and would not be intended for use in hospitals but rather by the general public. Demand for face masks has soared since March, with many municipalities in Canada now requiring them in public indoor spaces, at schools, and on transit.

Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s Oceans and Plastics campaign, said she would rather see the focus on making reusable masks,

“A single-use mask made of wood fibre, even if theoretically biodegradable, is likely still ending up in a landfill, or even as pollution in our communities,” she said. “Biodegradable means nothing if a mask’s end of life is someone’s bathroom garbage can or a garbage can on the street.”

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

The volunteers at the Campbell River Seniors’ Centre have been waiting seven months to welcome people back to the facility, and are happy to have all the necessary safety precautions in place to do so, including a sign-in booth at the entrance for contact tracing requirements. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbel River Mirror
Campbell River Seniors’ Centre re-opens after seven months of COVID closure

‘If we close it again, it’s possible it won’t ever re-open, and the community needs this facility’

Another modular unit is lifted into place on the second floor of the new supportive housing complex being built at 580 Dogwood Street on Thursday this past week. Photo by Cleo Corbett/City of Campbell River
Campbell River’s newest supportive housing facility rises on Dogwood Street

Pre-fab modular construction means the building can go on the foundation in under five days

RCMP remind people to lock their doors after dark. Black Press file photo.
RCMP seeing jump in property crime and unlocked vehicles

Drivers also cautioned to stay aware of changing road conditions

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read