Paper towels as affordable, effective, and eco-friendly face masks? DOST says, why not?

Paper towels, those handy, absorbent, and disposable rags you commonly use to wipe messy spills off your dining tables, apparently can also be used to keep deadly viruses from spreading. With a little tweaking, the Department of Science and Technology-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) has repurposed paper towels into potential life-savers.

In a bid to provide cheap, eco-friendly yet effective face masks for the public, the DOST-FPRDI, in partnership with Quanta Paper Marketing Inc of Mandaluyong City, is producing disposable face masks made from durable paper towels. The paper towels can also serve as inserts to cloth face masks for added filtration against airborne contaminants.

“The FPRDI disposable face masks (FDFs) use paper towels from imported virgin pulp and are sterilized with UV light exposure”, explained researcher Adela S. Torres, who added that paper products made from 100% virgin pulp are considered premium since they do not contain any recycled substance, and are biodegradable.

The FDFs are an improved version of the do-it-yourself, no-sew disposable paper towel face masks seen on the internet. Prior to sewing, the FDFs are folded downwards so that when stretched, the wearer’s nose down to the chin is totally covered. Flexible wires are also attached at the mid-upper portion of the masks to maintain shape.

“We want to provide an option to those who cannot afford surgical and other more expensive face masks. Our masks only cost P6.50 apiece and can easily be sewn at home. Their production can even be a source of income for those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic,” she explained.

Also, the FDFs are a greener option than single-use surgical facemasks. Scientists fear the gigantic amounts of surgical masks improperly disposed during this pandemic can result in a huge ecological disaster as these are made from plastic that can take hundreds of years to decompose.

To help address this problem, the DOST-FPRDI research team has prepared a research proposal on biodegradable medical face masks from abaca, bamboo and local fibrous materials, set to be conducted next year.

The first batch of FDFs have already been donated to some hospitals, cooperatives, and local government units in Los Banos, Bay, Cabuyao, Lumban and Calauan, Laguna. More shall be produced and distributed in the months to come.

To learn more about FDFs and other DOST innovations and research, call the DOST-FPRDI trunkline at (49) 5362377, or e-mail (DOST-FPRDI)