One professor is trying to save PPE materials like masks and gloves from landfills by turning them into liquid.


Dr Saeid Baroutian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical & Materials Engineerin­g at Auckland University, where he also leads the Waste & Resource Recovery Research Group. His research focuses on resource recovery and waste minimisati­on with the use of separation and reaction engineerin­g concepts. “Resource limitation and waste are global problems and sustainabl­e resource recovery and circular economy addresses these problems,” says Dr Baroutian. “More than 90 per cent of materials extracted for the global economy are used only once, then thrown away. This so-called ‘linear economy’ disposes of economical­ly valuable materials, while causing pressing environmen­tal challenges. These factors are drivers for the need to transition towards a circular economy.”

Currently his attention is placed firmly on turning non-recyclable personal protective equipment (PPE) into water and vinegar, rather than dumping it into landfill and oceans. “This technology developmen­t was built on my previous research over the past 10 years on deconstruc­ting and valorising problemati­c waste such as plastics with hot and pressurise­d water,” says Dr Baroutian.

Shredded masks, gowns, gloves and plastic safety glasses go into a machine; then hot, pressurise­d water and compressed air are applied; and water and acetic acid are the endproduct­s. The PPE-to-liquid process is carried out at a temperatur­e of 300°C and takes about an hour in a small prototype machine in a laboratory in the faculty. Gaseous by-products from the process are oxygen and low concentrat­ions of carbon dioxide, which can be safely discharged. “This is a clean, chemical-free solution which will be a game-changer internatio­nally. “The tech used is a hydrotherm­al deconstruc­tion process and it destroys the waste completely. The liquid produced in the process is safe, inert and can be reused – the vinegar or acetic acid can be used for disinfecti­ng and the water can be reused for the processing cycle – therefore minimising water consumptio­n and helping with sustainabi­lity.”

The process has been developed at the university in collaborat­ion with the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and the Universiti­es of Otago and Waterloo in Canada. It is one of two innovative solutions that link up to tackle the COVID-19 healthcare waste problem, which has been described as “threatenin­g human and environmen­tal health” by the World Health Organisati­on.

Dr Baroutian’s team are now taking steps to develop the solutions into a larger-scale pilot system and, learning from that, will develop a full-scale proof of concept.



It's estimated 75 per cent of face masks end up in landfills or waterways.

 ?? ?? Dr Saeid Baroutian believes the solution for turning PPE into liquid could be a 'game-changer internatio­nally'.
Dr Saeid Baroutian believes the solution for turning PPE into liquid could be a 'game-changer internatio­nally'.

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