Philippines company make sustainable face masks from abaca leaf fibre, providing PPE to communities

Philippines-based company, Salay Handmade Products Industries have come up with a solution for single-use plastic PPE face masks with masks made from Abaca leaf fibre.

The masks are made from organic raw materials including abaca fibres and grass which are made into a special filter.

Abaca is a species of banana native to the Philippines. Abaca fibres, which are biodegradable and sustainable, are extensively used to produce ropes, woven fabrics and tea bags.

Salay Handmade Products Industries masks are eco-friendly. In addition to being made with plant materials, they have the potential to work just as efficiently as medical-grade surgical masks.

Salay Handmade Products Industries’ abaca face masks are not being marketed to hospitals for surgical or medical use, but rather “it can be an option for better protection compared to thin masks found and peddled everywhere and in the public market place”, according to Salay Handmade Products Industries’ general manager, Neil Francis Rafisura.

According to a report published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, the coronavirus pandemic has people around the world using an estimated 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month.

Research conducted by the Philippines Department of Science and Technology (DOST) found that abaca face masks are comparably seven-times more effective at filtering air particles than cloth masks and conformed to international standards.

Even though the plant fibre is more expensive to produce than plastic alternatives, manufacturers of protective health gear from China, India and Vietnam have placed new orders for the fibre over recent months, prompting Philippine fibre factories to double their output.

Salay Handmade Products Industries, who are known for making stationery products, began developing prototypes of abaca-made masks in March, providing fair trade personal protective equipment (PPE) to affected communities.

The company made use of abaca that is locally grown by farmers in Salay and prized for its mechanical strength and resistance to saltwater.

Salay Handmade Products Industries’ Neil Francis Rafisura told The Philippine STAR: “We have this strong, tear-resistant, and water-absorbent paper material that was introduced to us about five years ago. We experimented by applying this strong material to make face mask or face cover. The material is based from 100% abaca fibre, the strongest fibre in the world.”

Along with local women artisans with over 30 years of experience in making handmade paper, Salay Handmade Products Industries started with the production of face masks in mid-April.

The raw abaca fiber undergoes at least 15 processes before they are cut and sewn into face covers. Each mask, which is handmade, features three layers: two layers of abaca-based filters in 90 to 220 gram per square meter (gsm) and one layer of cloth.

Salay Handmade Products Industries will soon have the capacity to produce 4,000 face covers per week.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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