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Since the start of the health crisis, the consumption of masks has created more than 40,000 tonnes of non-recycled waste in France. On the scale of the global population, this consumption is a scourge for the environment: each month, 129 billion masks are used and thrown away around the world. The Crédit Agricole Group has chosen to fight this new pollution by implementing a process to recycle disposable masks used by employees. A closer look at this innovative initiative.

A massive impact on the environment and ecosystems

Now indispensable in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, disposable masks are also a new scourge for the environment. 
Their manufacturing requires oil resources since they are composed mainly of polypropylene (PP), a common plastic material, which increases their carbon footprint.

A disposable surgical mask weighs 3.5 g and takes up to 450 years to decompose.

Left in nature, it affects the ecosystem by releasing microplastics. Thrown into a non-recyclable waste bin, it will be incinerated or buried.

Since the start of the health crisis, an increasing number of disposable masks have been found in the ocean, after travelling along rivers and tributaries. They sometimes travel much farther since a mask thrown into a gutter can end up in the ocean, then in the stomachs of fish, and finally in your own!

This is why the Crédit Agricole Group, as an actor for a sustainable society, decided to give a second life to these used masks by recycling them.

Recycling masks… not as easy as it sounds!

The solution? Recycle! The drawback? The cost. Recycling masks can cost up to €19,000 per tonne. Compared to the recovery of plastic packaging (€442/tonne), this is extremely expensive.

This activity had never been developed before the pandemic due to its cost and the complexity of its implementation. A mask is composed of plastic, metal and elastane. Each of these components must be separated from the others, which is a time-consuming task.

Despite these constraints, many initiatives have been launched over the past few months and the initial results are encouraging.

Many players in Crédit Agricole Group have recently started recycling masks with service providers such as Solutions recyclage or Lyreco: these include the entities present on the Montrouge and Saint-Quentin campuses, as well as CA Consumer Finance in Massy and Roubaix, CA Technologies et Services and the Centre-est, Côtes d'Armor, Languedoc, Morbihan and Val de France regional banks.

The process is simple: specific waste bins are placed in the common areas of these different Group entities, so that employees can use them to dispose of their used masks. Masks are then collected by the service provider who sends them directly to a recycling plant.

Recycling solutions: when masks are transformed… into high-end athletic tee-shirts

Once they arrive at the plant, masks are placed in quarantine, sanitized, washed, disassembled and ground down before undergoing a process of plastic regeneration.

The metal clips are sent to a foundry to be reused in the metallurgy industry.
The elastics are combined with other recycled plastics or used as an additive in the production of polypropylene granules.

The resulting plastic is transformed into small balls of a new and improved polypropylene, then into thread that is knit into an athletic tee-shirt made from the textile fibre Dynalen®. This fibre is innovative since it produces lightweight, hypo-allergenic, anti-friction (to avoid blisters/rubbing), thermo-regulating clothing with permanent anti-bacterial properties.

The production of one tee-shirt requires 50 recycled masks.

The first tee-shirts will soon be marketed via a specific distribution network dedicated to sport.

The Group’s entities have specific mask-recycling bins in the common areas of their buildings. 

The collected masks are disassembled.

The plastic is ground down and transformed into small balls of a new polypropylene, then into thread that will be knit.

Woven from the textile fibre Dylanen®, this innovative athletic tee-shirt requires the recycling of 50 masks. It will be sold in specialised sporting 

[Video] Aura - Solution Recyclage masques
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