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4/16/2020 | 2 MINUTE READ

Troy University's Center for Materials & Manufacturing Sciences Looking for Sustainable Personal Protection Equipment Materials

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Spurred by coronavirus pandemic, Troy University researchers are exploring recycled HDPE for PPE and the recycling of uncontaminated medical packaging.

Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, Troy University’s Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences, Troy, Alabama, recently announced new research aimed to bolster production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and create new avenues for recycling medical plastic waste.

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has put in stark focus the need for increased production of PPEs for medical professionals. Director of the Center Dr. Govind Menon said Troy researchers are looking at new ways to produce PPE from polymers as a means to increase production and help prepare for future threats. “One area we will focus on is using natural HDPE (used for milk jugs) as a substitute for PE and PP often used in masks and gowns. Natural HDPE has no additives, which makes contamination easier to deal with. The biggest focus here would be on optimizing the cleaning process and changing the perception that recycled plastics cannot be used for medical grade supplies,” Menon told PT.

Dr. Zhiyong Wang, associate professor and associate chair of the Dept. of Chemistry and Physics at Troy University, conducts polymer research in one of the labs on the Troy campus. Wang also serves as assistant director of the Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences. 


Moreover, the Center has started research into methods for recycling medical plastics. Healthcare facilities in the U.S. generate more than 14,000 tons of medical waste each day, with up to 25% of the amount consisting of plastic packaging or products. Currently, that plastic waste ends up in landfills or incinerators, Menon said, but the Center is researching methods to recycle that waste for non-medical uses. 

Menon explained further, “In terms of recycled medical waste, to begin with, there is a significant amount of plastic packaging that is uncontaminated that a hospital throws away. For example, when a surgery is performed, there is a significant amount of packaging from medical tools and devices that is just thrown away (even if unopened and uncontaminated). Looking into ways of recycling these unused supplies will be a worthwhile starting point. In general, plastics are processed at high temperature (say, 200 to 25O C), this makes it easier to eliminate biological contamination. We will be closely working with the Biology Department as we cautiously proceed in this direction. We will also look into next-generation projects relevant to protective wears using smart polymeric materials and additives.”

Troy University’s Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences was founded in 2018 with support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This Center is a fully integrated multi-disciplinary research facility focusing on research into polymers and polymer recycling.