The circularity of plastics “made in Austria” through collaboration and innovation
The Grabher Group, based in Vorarlberg, Austria, is a leading expert in air and micro-liquid filtration and designs smart textile systems for the manufacture of medical and healthcare products, among others. As the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Austria were looming. Grabher acted by becoming the first Austrian company to establish a dedicated face mask assembly facility that included a state-of-the-art melt-blown production system for manufacturing high-quality face masks. These certified masks, including FFP2 filtration respirators, medical masks and washable community masks, are marketed by Vprotect, a 100% member of the Grabher group. One of the essential components of Vprotect masks – the filter made of densely spaced micron-sized fibers – is made of melt-blown PP supplied by Borealis, a material that is itself fully recyclable.
Yet, for obvious health reasons, even high-quality, more durable face masks are quickly discarded. Far too many end up in landfills or even in natural environments. To combat the problem of growing volumes of mask waste, Grabher has again taken action by creating a new system for returning and collecting used masks for recycling into new value-added products. The scheme, which is to be rolled out across Austria in the near future, includes clearly marked collection boxes where all types of face masks can be dropped off. After sorting, washing, sterilizing and drying, the material is used as filler material for cushion and oil-absorbing applications. Development is currently underway to turn the masks into pellets which can be made into absorbent fabrics using the meltblown process. These recycled fabrics can be used to absorb oil – such as from a spill – or other liquids.
“Our partnership with Grabher is the embodiment of EverMinds’ circular thinking,” said Vedran Kujundzic, Borealis Vice President, Commercial Performance Materials. “Using our fully recyclable melt-blown PP to make high-quality face masks helps protect human health, and finding a way to reuse them protects our planet. Together, Borealis and Grabher have taken the next step to close the loop on plastics circularity by maintaining our focus on sustainable solutions that benefit society.”
“We are proud to have responded so quickly to the urgent need for PPE and FFP2 masks, especially at the start of the pandemic in Austria,” says Günter Grabher, Managing Director of the Grabher Group. “In the meantime, we are pleased that our collection and recycling initiative continues to attract many other participants, including OMV, a major food distribution group, and several large hospitals. In Borealis, we have found a reliable partner who shares our commitment to innovation and sustainability, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration.