This fiber from a relative of the banana tree may be the replacement to plastic used in millions of facial masks and hospital gowns which the world is producing for protection in the fight against the pandemic.
Abaca is a fiber from the Philippines which is used in teabags and banknotes.
It’s durable as polyester, but it decomposes within 60 days, explains the head of the Philippine fiber agency Kennedy Costales.
He adds that with this pandemic, if we continue buying masks of synthetic fiber, the dumpsites will be full of them as they need a lot of time to decompose.
Covid-19 Seemed to Put the Effort to Stop Using Plastic in the Margins
The global efforts to prohibit and reduce the usage of single-use plastic have been put on a stop as the nations prioritized packaging and medical supplies over the environment.
This has brought the chemical companies to profit more than they ever did before.
The sales of disposable masks is set to increase more than 200-fold globally and bring $166 billion, claims the UN trade article citing the consultancy Grand View Research.
Worries about the Power of Alternatives for Protection
Companies shied away from replacing plastic with biodegradables due to worries about the costs and whether these materials are potent enough and effective for medical usage.
One preliminary study done by the Philippine Department of Science and Tech showed that the abaca paper is more water resistant than a N95 mask and that it haves pore sizes within the recommended range by the US CDC and Prevention for filtering out damaging particles.
With this knowledge, Costales notes that the demand for abaca may grow this year-with 10 percent of it going to medical usage compared to the less than 1 percent in 2019.
According to Pratik Gurnani, senior consultant at the Future Market Insights, abaca fiber is gaining increasing popularity as the governments and manufacturers worldwide scamper to make more reusable and safer medical garments for their staff.
The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer and supplied 85 percent of fiber in 2017, says data by the UN Food & Agriculture Organization. The global production is estimated to cost $100 million this year.
What Are the Different Uses of the Abaca Fiber?
The fiber which is taken from the trunks of the abaca tree was used for the saltwater-resistant ship ropes and Manila envelopes in the 19th century.
Moreover, up to 30 percent of the banknotes in Japan are made of it and the abaca yarn has also been used in the production of the Mercedez-Benz cars.
Although it’s more expensive than plastic alternatives, the manufacturers of protective health gear from India, China, and Vietnam have placed orders these past few months.
So, the fiber factories in the Philippine had to double the output.
Still, the production of abaca can’t keep up with the high demand, says Costales.