Huge requirement and consumption of medical textile (non-woven) products like a face mask, apron, coverall suit, surgical cap, hand gloves, shoe cover, hospital bed sheet, etc. and other products like, goggles, bin bags, sanitizer packaging, medical equipment, etc. feels like plastic is a boon in this pandemic. All of the products are manufactured from petrochemical-derived polymers. Moreover, to maintain hygiene, plastic packaging is crucial in food packaging, hospitals, public places, restaurants, hotels, etc.
During the pandemic, are we neglecting the terrible consequences of plastic waste?
What will happen?
We already have seen the severe effect of handling plastic waste poorly. In this scenario, the plastic waste will be contaminated. The face masks are widely used by the normal public, but after the use scenario is completely different, a lack of proper handling system will worsen the situation. The contaminated masks are being thrown away everywhere. In addition, medical waste from the hospitals needs to be handled adequately and need to be disposed of as early as possible to stop spreading contamination. Currently, consumption of these items has increased to multifold, whereas the waste handling system or incineration facilities have not increased.
We need to think about the environmental damage caused by incineration of plastics as well, as it releases toxic substances in the air like acid gases, carcinogen dioxin, nitrogen oxide, heavy metals and particulates. It poisons the environment. Studies have also shown that the dioxins, produced during the incineration cause cancer in humans.
These pictures show how irresponsibly medical waste was thrown on the streets.
How does bioplastic can contribute to tackling the contaminated plastic waste problem?
Biodegrading it, is one way of getting rid of bioplastic. Especially for medical waste, we need a meteoric solution to get rid of the contaminated plastic waste as quickly as possible. Incineration is the safest and quickest option to destroy contaminated plastic.
The scenario of incinerating bioplastic is not the same as petrochemical-based plastics, as it does not release toxic substances or emit toxic fumes while incinerating. People already have seen small/domestic sanitary pad incinerators in hospitals, schools, colleges and mostly in ladies toilets to burn contaminated sanitary pads. Same way, small incinerators can be set up in hospitals to burn the medical waste made of bioplastics, which would be very easy & logical.
Furthermore, hospitals will handle their own medical waste effectively. The risk of contamination will be reduced drastically. To add, hospitals can also save some money by eliminating the transportation, collection, risk of contamination and payment to giant incinerators, etc.
No toxic gases are produced while burning bioplastics, which will save us from environmental hazards too. Burning bioplastic produces carbon dioxide, which was absorbed by the same (renewable natural raw material) earlier during the plant growth. Hence, it balances the ecological cycle.
What to do?
Technical textile like non-woven cloth should be made from biopolymers, which is already available in the market. PLA or PLA/PBS non-woven fabrics are already being produced in some countries like the USA, Germany, etc, they are bio-based and compostable. Biopolymers like PLA and PBS manufacturing needs to be expanded rapidly to cope up with the current huge requirement. Government interventions are the key to brighten the future of this industry.
Many countries have already laid down the plan of action to ban single-use plastic step by step and implement bioplastic products relevantly.
We can consider the Thailand government as an admirable policymaker for the bioplastic industry. The statement of Thailand's board of investment, “Thailand is attracting billions of baht of investments in bioplastics from global and local players, seizing the opportunities the country offers as a production hub for bio-based industries due to its abundant raw materials, existing value chain and supportive government policies.”
This compostable non-woven fabric can be used to manufacture all the medical textile applications like, face mask, apron, coverall suit, surgical cap, shoe cover, hand gloves, hospital bed sheet, surgical equipment cover, etc. Additionally, hygiene products like a sanitary pad, baby & adult diaper, etc. can also be manufactured from the compostable fabric.
This could be the strategic and crucial time to think about it and contribute to the “Clean India” movement and movement to ban single-use plastic. I think this is the right time to take action before it gets out of our hands. We are already regretting with our previous inadequate performance of handling plastic waste, are we going to repeat the same mistake knowingly?