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

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

Just Posted

Jill Mackenzie carefully replaces books on the shelves at the Houston Public Library. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
District approves annual library grant

Craft kits featured for summer reading club

The tradition of Houston Christian School grads giving Bibles to incoming kindergarten students will take place this year, but outdoors and in a modified fashion. (File photo)
Houston Christian School grad day is June 24

Grads themselves have set tone for the day, says teacher

Scott Richmond will be starting as the new vice principal for HSS and TSE. (Submitted/Houston Today)
Houston gets a new vice principal

Scott Richmond takes over from Dwayne Anderson who moved to Smithers

A Pacific Salmon Foundation grant of $3,000 is going towards the tree plantations. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)
550 trees planted in Houston through A Rocha

Houston Christian School students and volunteers help with the tree planting

Currently the Houston station has 16 paramedics, two ambulances and one community paramedic vehicle. (File photo)
Retirement of longtime paramedics worries Houston community

“No loss of service,” assures BC Emergency Health Services

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

For more than a year, Rene Doyharcabal and a small group of neighbours in Langley’s Brookswood neighbourhood have been going out every evening to show support for first responders by honking horns and banging pots and drums. Now, a neighbour has filed a noise complaint. (Langley Advance Times file)
Noise complaint filed against nightly show of support for health care workers in B.C. city

Langley Township contacted group to advise of complaint, but no immediate action is expected

A nurse prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Thomas
Vancouver couple pleads guilty to breaking Yukon COVID rules, travelling for vaccine

Chief Judge Michael Cozens agreed with a joint sentencing submission,

An inmate in solitary confinement given lunch on Tuesday, May 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN/Lars Hagberg
22-hour cap on solitary confinement for youth in custody still too long: B.C. lawyer

Jennifer Metcalfe was horrified to hear a youth had spent a total of 78 straight days in isolation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens as Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents the province’s latest budget, April 20, 2021. The budget projects $19 billion in deficits over three years. (Hansard TV)
B.C. government budget balloons, beyond COVID-19 response

Provincial payroll up 104,000 positions, $10 billion since 2017

COVID-related trash is washing up on shorelines across the world, including Coldstream’s Kal Beach, as pictured in this May 2021 photograph. (Jennifer Smith - Black Press)
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation to search residential school site for unmarked graves

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

Most Read