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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This concept artwork from July 2020 shows the inland port planned for the former Skeena Cellulose mill site in Terrace. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Terrace city council approves inland port OCP amendments

Project still requires zoning bylaw, development permit to continue

This copper frog pendant was made by Jamika Aksidan, a young Nisga’a artist who was recently recognized with an award for her work. (Photo courtesy Nisga’a Museum)
Nisga’a youth artist wins award

Award includes $500, exhibition in Nisga’a Museum

A BC Hydro outage is affecting nearly 4000 customers in Kitimat. The cause of the outage is under investigation. (Screenshot/BC Hydro Outage Map)
Cable fault responsible for Kitimat power outage, BC Hydro says

At its peak, the BC Hydro power outage affected near 4,000 customers

Graph showing the 2020 passenger totals at the Northwest Regional Airport in Terrace. (Submitted/Northwest Regional Airport)
New year brings an end to a turbulent 2020 at Northwest Regional Airport

Passenger totals half of what they were in 2019

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Most Read