Kiwi scientists have developed a shipping container-based unit to disinfect N95 masks and other PPE, so it can be potentially reused and safely recycled.
In response to a global shortage of PPE early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a multidisciplinary team led by Dr Yvonne Anderson, a senior lecturer at the Department of Paediatrics, University of Auckland started researching a method for disinfecting PPE for potential reuse or safe recycling.
“Safety of healthcare workers during the current pandemic is critical to reducing community transmission of COVID-19, and this requires readily available PPE,” Yvonne says.
“The primary focus of our project was protecting healthcare workers and other frontline staff against the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the causative agent of COVID-19). However, it’s paramount that we also find ways to mitigate the ever-growing amount of medical waste that goes to landfills, or worse, that ends up polluting our lands, rivers, and seas, magnifying the global problem of plastic pollution.”
Yvonne, and collaborator Dr José Derraik of the University of Auckland pulled together a team from the Universities of Auckland, Otago, Canterbury, Waterloo (Canada), and New Zealand’s AgResearch to collaborate on the project.
The team tested UV light and dry heat for disinfecting clinical PPE. In January 2022, their initial findings were published in Pathogens.
The study showed UV disinfection was not reliable on the irregular surfaces of PPE, but dry heat was effective. The researchers also found replication-competent virus remained on face masks for up to five weeks at room temperature.
The most recent stage of the research project has been to build and test a prototype mobile disinfection unit in a shipping container at the Port of Taranaki.
Port Taranaki Head of Commercial, Ross Dingle says “It’s great to have helped Dr Anderson and those involved in this innovative project. We’re thrilled the project has been a success."
“As a border-facing operation, Port Taranaki has been at the front line during COVID-19, which has involved many of our people wearing PPE each day. This has resulted in large amounts of PPE being used."
“It’s fantastic that this work has the potential to reduce the impact of PPE on the environment, and ensure an ongoing safe supply of PPE, even in the event of supply shortages.”