Used face masks may be recycled–in cement making

People wearing face masks and face shields to protect themselves against the coronavirus wait outside a grocery store in Cainta, Rizal.

THE discarded disposable face masks may potentially be reused as alternative fuels and raw materials in cement production through co-processing, which can help the waste management of the mandatory wearable in pandemic.

The Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (Cemap) said the local industry is awaiting the revision on the Department Administrative Order (DAO) 2010-06, or the Guidelines on the Use of Alternative Fuels and Raw Materials in Cement Kilns, to include the used face masks as viable alternative input for cement production.

Cemap Executive Director Cirilo Pestaño II said the pronouncement will be coming from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The agency, he said, noted the increased usage of the face masks amid pandemic—and proper disposal is necessary.

“We are just waiting for the revision of the DAO which will allow the cement manufacturing companies or facilities to handle certain types of medical waste,” he said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Pestaño said the EMB tagged the cement industry as a “suitable partner” in disposing of such a type of waste.

Currently, the DAO prohibits the reuse or recovery of health-care wastes in co-processing. These include pathological wastes, such as tissues, fetuses, blood and body fluids; infectious wastes; and sharps including syringes and scalpels.

Co-processing, which is covered in the DAO 2010-06, refers to the reuse or recovery of mineral or energy content of waste materials while simultaneously producing cement in a single combined operation.

The Cemap official stressed that using alternative fuels and raw materials—which are derived from waste—is beneficial as this lessens the use of non-renewable energy sources including coal, fuel oil and natural gas in cement making. As a result, it reduces the environmental footprint of the local sector, he explained.

“Since the early 2000, the Philippine domestic cement manufacturing industry has provided an alternative waste management solution through the use of various qualified waste as alternative fuel for its cement production. This is done through a method called cement kiln co-processing,” the Cemap official shared.

While co-processing reduces emission of carbon dioxide, he said it “provides efficient alternative solutions in the disposal of municipal solid waste and industrial waste.” Pestaño explained that it is not harmful because the process is contained within the cement field, unlike incineration which emits gases and produces by-products that end up in landfills.

In addition, co-processing also avoids less favorable waste treatment solutions such as landfilling, which produces methane and causes water pollution, Pestaño said.

“To realize the needed efficient management of waste through co-processing essentially, waste must be processed first to be acceptable for kiln processing. Also, materials recovery facilities must sort any waste that can be accepted for co-processing,” he explained, noting that partnership with the local government units (LGUs) is a must to address the concerns over solid waste management.

“The cement plants must fix comprehensive supply contracts with waste generators such as the [LGUs] and some manufacturing firms, indicating a clear specification for the waste-derived alternative fuel or raw material they can use,” he added.

Pestaño said the cement manufacturing industry’s co-processing capabilities have been improving and more developments are expected.

In Metro Manila, the cement group noted that 9,000 tons of waste are produced daily but only 85 percent of the solid waste is collected and brought to landfills and dumpsites. The remaining 15 percent, it shared, usually ends up in waterways and bodies of water.

Image credits: Bernard Testa


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