Researching novel PPE waste treatments

A Swansea University researcher team are investigating the possibility of using sunlight to convert hazardous medical waste into clean hydrogen fuel, developing a novel process called photoreforming which uses sunlight to simultaneously kill viruses and convert non-recyclable waste into clean hydrogen fuel.

The process works by using nanostructured semiconductors to drive the degradation of waste and pathogens with sunlight.

Recently boosted by £47,000 of Welsh Government funding, the project comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is creating vast amounts of additional waste, such as masks and other protective equipment.

“Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a global surge in single-use medical waste and PPE polluting the environment such as disposable face masks littering beaches,” said Dr Moritz Kuehnel, Project Lead and Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at Swansea University.

“The NHS already spends more than £700m every year on waste disposal, even before Covid waste.”

“Applying our technology to reprocess just 1% of this waste would save millions and mitigate pollution at the same time.”

This new research builds on the team’s previous work on generating hydrogen from waste plastics.
This seems plausible though hardly necessary. Yes, there are huge volumes of PPE-related wastes being produced at present, and this will continue for some time yet. However, if this works for face masks does it work for each and every type? Does it work for gloves, vinyl gloves, nitrile, latex etc?  What about gowns, or all makes and materials?
And the questions go on, including how to accommodate yet more waste containers in already overburdened clinical areas of our hospitals? The all-important question of who will separate the reprocess able and what to do with the rest of the waste must be answered, ideally before spending money on a project like this?
I wish them well, but this seems to be an expensive and quite probably a futile exercise that will never reach the marketplace. My preference would, by far, be to burn it all in a waste-to-energy facility.

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