- Journal of Health Care and Research
- Article Type: Short Article
- DOI: 10.36502/2020/hcr.6174
- J Health Care and Research. 2020 Oct 20;1(3):157-65
Post-COVID-19: An Opportunity to Produce Biodegradable Goods & Surgical Masks to Save the Environment
Morganti P1,2*, Morganti G3
1Academy of History of Healthcare Art, Rome, Italy
2Dermatol Department, China Medical University, Shenyang, China
3ISCD Nanoscience Research Centre, Rome, Italy
Corresponding Author: Pierfrancesco Morganti ORCID ID
Address: Dermatol Unit, Campania University, Naples, Italy.
Received date: 23 August 2020; Accepted date: 08 October 2020; Published date: 20 October 2020
Citation: Morganti P, Morganti G. Post-COVID-19: An Opportunity to Produce Biodegradable Goods & Surgical Masks to Save the Environment. J Health Care and Research. 2020 Oct 20;1(3):157-65.
Copyright © 2020 Morganti P, Morganti G. This is an open-access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Keywords: COVID-19, Surgical Masks, Plastics, Waste, Polypropylene, Environment, Polysaccharides, Chitin Nanofibrils, Lignin, PLA, PHA, Starch, GHG Emissions
Consumption of natural raw materials is causing climate changing, by an acceleration of glaciers, oceans, and forests’ depletions with the contemporary accumulation of waste materials. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has further incremented the waste material of plastics because of the obligatory use of surgery masks, made prevalently by the non-biodegradable polypropylene. Thus, the necessity to change the way of producing and consuming transforming the linear economy based on the taking, make, and waste in the circular economy of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Changing the actual way of living, it will be also possible to drastically reduce the increasing plastics waste that, invading lands and oceans are entering into the food chain with negative effects on fauna flora and the human’s wellbeing. Just to remember the global production of plastics exploded from 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to nearly 350 million metric tons in 2017 and, disposed to the landfill as waste, are producing global greenhouse gas emissions of 2.8 billion tons per year. Being the technology ready, it is proposed to produce natural polymers, such as chitin and lignin which, obtainable from waste materials, may be used to produce biodegradable goods and surgical and beauty masks. By this way it will be possible to maintain the natural raw materials for future generations, saving human wellbeing and the world’s biodiversity.
The actual way of producing and consuming worldwide is accelerating the depletion of global natural capital, such as glaciers, oceans, and forests, essential for human well being . Moreover, the consumption of natural raw materials, producing an enormous quantity of waste also, is continuing to provoke climate changing with an increase of pollutants and Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) (Fig-1 and Fig-2) . As a consequence, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that every year around 7 million people die, globally linked to the indoor and outdoor’ air pollution, while the human life Expectance shortens by two years .
Worldwide pollution as Nanoparticles (by courtesy of UN )
Worldwide greenhouse emissions by 2018 (by courtesy of UN )
Unfortunately, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, with the unsuspected and shocking socio-economical consequences of death, poverty, and general depression, are also contributing to an increase the plastic waste because of the great consumption of masks and gloves, made prevalently by non-biodegradable petrol-derived materials . On the other hand, there is the hope that the existence of the virus-pandemic may give the right lesson for organizing worldwide the future management of health and beauty, by sustainable production and consumption of goods, respective of the environment and the earth’ biodiversity also. Looking to the fundamental errors seems the best way for a better foreseeable future, looking and understanding the past and the actual errors too. Thus, according to Theodore Roosevelt, “the more you know about the past, the better prepared you for the future” .
However, it is to remember that waste and GHG emissions are the major causes of climate-changing with consequent worldwide disasters.
Is COVID-19 connected with the pollutants also?
Understanding similarities and differences between pandemics and climate risk could be a critical first step for taking the right decisions at a political, social, and economical level. However, health is to be considered more important than the economy!
Health and the environment, in fact, would represent our future priorities, as well as beauty from the inside out represented a necessity for all the cultures, first of all, the Chinese ones, as part of their traditional medicine . Thus, living a healthy lifestyle is listed today as the top key priority, specifically for Millennials (aged 22-34) and Gen-Z (aged 18-24) Chinese consumers [6,7]. However, all the consumers from 22 to 73 years old both in West and in East take particular attention to health and wellbeing, suffering also from stress due to the actual life-style and the post-COVID-19 consequences [4,6,7].
Therefore as previously reported, it is again to underline that COVID-19 diffusion is eliminate to a marked increase of plastic waste also, due to the obligatory protective use of surgical masks and gloves, necessary as protective means against the virus infection [8,9]. This waste could be stopped by the production of innovative and biodegradable masks, gloves, and one-day-use dresses, made by biodegradable biomaterials and technologies, just ready to be produced and marketed [8,10].
It, in fact, further increasing the 150 million tons of plastics already circulating in the marine environment with a provisional to double to 250 million tons by 2025, has been collected as 2.4 million of cigarette buts; 1.7 million pieces of food wrappers; 1.6 million of drinking; 1.1 million of bottle caps; 757,523 of grocery bags and billions of masks and gloves! [11,12].
It is time to create a cleaner world, increasing the use of ingredients such as polysaccharide polymers, obtained by waste materials and advanced technologies, thus changing the actual way of producing, consuming, and living! .
At this purpose the involvement in the circular economy of consumers is considered essential by United Nation, also because they worldwide haven’t until today a clear understanding of the new way of producing which would be based on the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle of the circular economy and no more on take, make, and waste of the actual linear economy (Fig-3) [14,15]. School, Mass Media, Industries, and Politicians, therefore, have to explain to consumers the real meaning of the circular economy that, involving a different concept of living respective of the environment, is considered indispensable for maintaining our health with the planet biodiversity .
Linear vs Circular Economy and benefits (by courtesy of EC [14,16])
Producers and consumers must understand that by only transforming in the circular economy the linear economy, it will be possible to save the natural resources, protect the environment, thus saving also money . It has been estimated, in fact, that the adoption of the circular economy will save more than the US $600 billion by 2025 . However, if the environment will be not respected, continuing the intense deforestation without changing the way of producing and discharging plastics, such as bottles, packaging’s and masks with their lifespan of ~450 years, we will have a future social and ecological time bomb, according to a recent in use expression .
According to our experience, it exists the possibility to use bioengineering tissues made by natural biopolymers for making goods, beauty, and surgical masks also. Therefore, by this new open perspective, it will be possible to produce biodegradable products, eco-compatible and skin-friendly with a consequent drastic reduction of plastic waste, according to the incoming green and blue economy [18,19].
Natural Polymer Fibre Materials
Many are the different natural polymers involved in the life and tissue engineering processes, obtainable from fisher’s by-products, such as chitin and its derived compounds, from plant biomass as alginates, cellulose, and polyphenolic lignin, or from bacteria fermentation as PHA, PLA, and pullulan [19-22].
By these polymers, it will be possible to create biodegradable non-woven tissues with biological functions, useful to produce advanced medications and surgical masks as well as beauty face masks [23,24].
To realize these tissues, characterized for their active safeness, it is important they possess not only a large surface area and a high degree of porosity but also a specific surface morphology with an organized structure similar to the native Extra Cellular Matrix (ECM) (Fig-4) .
Chitin Nanofibril (CN) scaffold vs the natural extracellular matrix ones (ECM) (by personal file)
Moreover, to be really effective, they have to cargo the right active ingredients which, linked into- or on- the surface of their fibers’ structure, have to be released in the right dose, time, and site, according to the designed activity. Our research group, for example, obtained the best inhibition of bacterial growth by a natural tissue, the fibers of which were linked to a 2% of nano-structured silver, before starting with the electrospinning process (Fig-5) . Additionally, other realized tissues, always made by natural polysaccharides, were embedded by complexes obtained by the assembly of the electropositive chitin nanofibrils with the electronegative nano-lignin, according to the gelation method (Fig-6) . It is interesting to underline that these polymers may be metabolized by the environment and human’ enzymes to active ingredients, such as glucosamine, acetyl glucosamine, glucose, and polyphenols utilized from skin cells as food or energy.
Antibacterial activity of CN-Ag tissue( personal file)
The gelation method to produce complexes between the elettronegative Chitin nanofibril-Nanolignin and other elettronegative polymers such as hyaluronic acid or nanolignin (personal file)
However, both chitin and lignin, obtained at their nano dimensions for increasing their unique and specific activities, were used to encapsulate different active ingredients such as niacinamide or glycyrrhetinic acid, controlled for their concentration and size by FTIR (Fig-7) and SEM (Fig-8) . Moreover, studies have been realized both in vitro and in vivo to control the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, immunomodulating, and skin-repairing effectiveness of the realized advanced medications [10,29-32] or to verify the hydrating and anti-aging activity of face beauty masks [10,24,33-35]. In conclusion, these non-woven tissues seem to be interesting vehicles for cosmetics, food, or drug delivery in dependence of the polymers and the active ingredients selected . They, in fact, maybe realized, for example, by water-soluble polymers which, linked to selected active ingredients, could be applied, for example, on the tongue and used as diet supplements; on the other hand, when produced by polymers composed by super adsorbent fibers of different thickness, they may be used to realize specific dressings for wounds, characterized for a large volume of exudates. Moreover, it is possible to produce tissues which, made by specialized polymeric composites, encapsulating selected active ingredients, could result effective to slow down fine lines and wrinkling, when applied on the face at a deigned dose and for the right time. Naturally, the polymeric fibers used to make the various tissues should possess the right robustness, be able to degrade without producing toxic compounds, and have the inherent ability to mimic the ECM architecture in three dimensions. Finally, the different tissues have to be specifically designed for providing the right mechanical properties, being easily workable by electro-spinning, melt spinning, and wet spinning, having agreeable shelf life and degradation time, thus resulting in biocompatible and eco-compatible.
FTIR of Chitin nanofibril-Lignin(CN-LN) entrapping niacinamide and glycirrhetic acid ( by courtesy of Danti et al) 
Chitin nanofibril-nanolignin complex encapsulating vit C sodium phosphate by SEM (personal file)
In conclusion, by the actual technologies, it seems possible to produce many goods and biodegradable tissues by the use of natural polysaccharides, according to also to our research results [10,24,29-35]. By the use of these natural polymers, it exists the possibility to realize innovative goods and biodegradable surgical masks, actually largely produced by pollutant petrol-derived polymers. It seems possible, in fact, to make surgical masks by the assembly of four or more biodegradable layers, alternating hydrophobic and hydrophilic layers with films able to avoid the passage of microorganisms and viruses (unpublished studies). On the other hand, by modifying polymers and active ingredients, it is also possible to produce face beauty masks free from preservatives, emulsifiers, fragrances, and other chemicals [10,24,33-35]. These innovative masks, in fact, produced and distributed at the dry state, have the ability to release their active ingredients on the skin, only when activated by water solutions during their use.
Therefore, the different tissues, composed by chitin nanofibrils, nanolignin, polylactic acid, fibroin, pullulan, and other natural polymers, embedded by different and selected active ingredients, give the possibility to produce surgical or beauty masks skin- and environmentally-friendly. Thus, on the one hand, these proposed surgical masks could avoid plastic waste and the passage of viruses eliminating also the irritative phenomena caused by the actual masks. These products, in fact, are made prevalently by polypropylene, known also as an irritative compound and potential source of dangerous microplastic fibers [4,36], invading land and oceans, as previously reported [4,9,11,12]. On the other hand, the smart beauty masks, forming a biologically active layer on the skin, could avoid the majority of the irritative and sensitizing phenomena provoked by the different chemicals, helping the skin to maintain its juvenile aspect. In conclusion, the sustainable production and use of these masks and other goods made by natural polymers will notably reduce the general waste of plastics contributing to save the environment and the Planet’ biodiversity.
This is our hope for the incoming years to avoid the so called ecological time bomb.
Conflict of Interest
All authors have read and approved the final version of the manuscript. The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.
This work has not been funded by any institution or organization.
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