Making change on mask pollution

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Abby Lowe (left) and Charlotte Boyce of the The Hangarua Collective.

A group of Year12 and 13 students from Ashburton and Timaru are tackling increasing face mask pollution by developing garden boxes made out of recycled disposable masks.

The Hangarua Collective project was founded by students Jessamy Roadley, Charlotte Boyce and Abby Lowe.

Aimed at reducing mask waste across New Zealand, the collective was established under the Young Enterprise scheme which works to equip students with business and leadership skills.

Disposable face masks have been plaguing the environment since the outbreak of covid.

Made of nanoplastics and non-biodegradable materials, masks such as the KN95 and surgical mask are often discarded after a single use, even though they can be washed and reused up to 10 times.

However, ultimately they do still need to be disposed of, and current non-recyclable disposal methods mean face masks are polluting our environment on a concerning scale.

A representative of the Hangarua Collective said that they have been working with the Timaru District Council to establish community mask collection points which they hope will decrease the amount of masks going into landfill, and increase the amount of masks used in the project.

“Through our everyday life we were able to see masks lying around on the streets and it was a talking point among our friendship circles on how we could resolve the issue.”

With the support of University of Canterbury’s Post Doctoral Fellow, Hossein Najaf Zadeh, the group aims to utilise facilities provided by the university to compress and mold masks into a ‘toothpaste’ of sorts.

This paste will then be used to create garden boxes, which the Hangarua Collective hopes will eventually be available for consumer purchase through garden centres.

“This would benefit the environment as we are turning a waste issue into something sustainable.”

Once created, the garden boxes will initially be sold through the Hangarua Collective. Proceeds will be reinvested into the project to help expand mask collection efforts and fund the purchase of a compression mold which the group can use for additional projects.

Currently about thirteen businesses are assisting the project by supplying used masks, but the group encourage other businesses and organisations to contribute if they can.

“A little help goes a long way, and we’d love as many families, industries, and businesses on board.”

The students behind The Hangarua Collective will be looking into how they can expand their recycling efforts from masks to include other plastics and materials polluting New Zealand’s environments.

Enquiries can be made by emailing the group at: thehangaruacollective@nullgmail.com

-By Indi Roberts