RenéMask: giving a second life to medical masks

About 129 billion used masks, turning into waste, cover three times as large as the area of Singapore. Due to the epidemic situation, personal protective equipment has started to play a vital role in our lives. With the widespread use of medical masks, we must be prepared to face the challenges that threaten nature and the environment. However, the world seems to be more concerned with satisfying the insatiable hunger for medical masks and trying to produce more and more of the environmental problems caused by the accumulation of mask waste, which is being ignored.

In May 2020, when I was still in the 11th grade, and the danger of waste masks was emerging, I decided to find a solution myself. I discussed the idea of the project with my chemistry teacher, started researching the topic, and soon at my school, we started doing the first experiments on recycling. Combining my two areas of interest - ecology, and chemistry - I came up with the idea of the RenéMask project, which was to find a scientific but, at the same time, environmentally sustainable way to recycle medical masks. As a result of months of research, experiments, and discussions, the method and project of obtaining fuel with a small ecological footprint from masks in laboratory conditions were developed. Thus, RenéMask offers a solution to two problems at once: the growth of environmental pollution and the demand for alternative energy sources. According to a 2018 study by the British oil and gas company BP, the annual consumption of primary energy has increased by 2.9% since 2017, twice as fast as 13 years ago.

That is why the procurement of energy sources to replace fossil fuels has become a priority for every country. By chemical treatment of masks, it is possible to obtain liquid fuel, which can use in heat transfer devices and some engines.

In this way, within the framework of the RenéMask project, I started to recycle the masks used and thrown away at Ayb School. Moreover, in April 2021, the RenéMask project won the Awesome Nature Armenia grant competition, receiving $1,000 in funding, which I am currently using to expand the project's scope into developing a research methodology. The project is now focused on studying the chemical composition and properties of the fuel obtained through qualitative-quantitative analysis and establishing possible cooperation with companies operating in the field of recycling in Armenia to expand the project.

It is noteworthy that with the chemical method, it can later be possible to process other types of plastics, such as polyethylene bottles and bags. The project aims to solve the problem of environmental pollution in Armenia with medical masks using a method with a small ecological footprint while receiving an alternative energy source, which itself can be used instead of fossil fuels.

RenéMask has become a tool for me to fight against the abuse of plastic, spreading as environmentally friendly activities and lifestyle as possible.

Ilya Lalazaryan, 12-th grade


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