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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Returnity, Venetian Resort Working to Cut Out COVID Waste

Surgical mask upcycling and antimicrobial, reusable packaging solutions are some of the latest initiatives aiming to clean up some of our COVID-fueled, plastic-covered mess.

On top of the other significant ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we know, the renewed tidal wave of plastic waste flooding our beaches, waterways and landfills — thanks to the global need for disposable PPE items and our necessary reversion to single-use plastic supplies shrink-wrapped in plastic — adds insult to injury. A number of innovators have already set to work to try to reverse this in various ways, and here are a few more initiatives joining the fight.

The Venetian Resort upcycling used face masks

Image credit: Venetian Resort

The Venetian Resort announced this week it will be the first Las Vegas-based property — and one of the first in the US — to launch a program to recycle the surgical face masks being used by guests and staff as part of its Venetian Clean initiatives.

As part of this pilot project, in partnership with TerraCycle, the discarded masks are collected on-site at The Venetian Resort and sent to a recycling facility — there, they are separated, shredded and densified into a crumb-like raw material; which will be used to make repurposed products such as composite lumber for shipping pallets, railroad ties and composite decking.

“Our responsibility to the planet is one of our company’s core values,” stated George Markantonis, president and COO of The Venetian Resort Las Vegas. “Our Sands ECO360 global sustainability initiative was designed to help minimize our environmental impact; and … as a company that has put sustainability in the forefront of our operation, it was important to find a recycling solution for this PPE, to avoid sending them to our landfills.”

Since re-opening in June, The Venetian Resort began diverting discarded surgical face masks from other waste being sent to landfills, through an industry-leading trash-sorting initiative that takes place on property.

In addition to this program, the resort actively sorts its trash, diverting 27 types of items that would otherwise be sent to landfills. Through this program, between 55-60 percent of waste is diverted from local landfills, a number that far surpasses the national average of 32 percent, or the state average of 23 percent.

Currently, consumer masks are not recycled through main-stream or curbside recycling programs, due to the complexity of the recycling process. Surgical face masks are made of a multitude of materials, and need to be sorted and separated before recycling. In addition, a magnet is used to separate the metal nose strips, which can melted and utilized in other recycled materials. This pilot with TerraCycle will help provide proof of concept for such recycling, to encourage other hospitality giants and businesses to replicate the program.

Returnity partners to create first-ever antimicrobial, reusable packaging 

Image credit: Returnity

Meanwhile, circular shipping solution provider Returnity has partnered with Swedish chemical company Polygiene to create an improved reusable packaging product, treated with Polygiene's ViralOff® antimicrobial solvent — a treatment for textiles and other products that reduces viruses by 99% in two hours. The initiative is a first for the packaging industry, directly addressing recent concerns linked to COVID-19 that have reversed progress in the fight against plastic pollution. The packaging, designed by Returnity, will be protected by Polygiene's ViralOff antimicrobial solution. The initial order value is around USD 500 000 over two years.

Returnity’s reusable, cost-effective and lightweight shipping boxes and bags help eliminate the proliferation of waste generated by e-commerce — namely, cardboard boxes and poly mailer bags — while reducing packaging expenses; and providing a financial return, improved user experience and significant reductions in resource consumption.

"What we do at Returnity is build out these reusable solutions and empower the broader systems necessary for companies to shift to the circular economy. By partnering with Polygiene, we are now able to create something that better addresses consumer needs in our world today," said Mike Newman, CEO of Returnity Innovations. "By creating this system that prioritizes safety with antimicrobial coating for our packaging, we are providing a legitimate, reusable option that the consumer can feel good about — from both a safety standpoint and an environmental one."

Polygiene treats materials to extend the life of garments, footwear, gear and textiles. Its ViralOff® antimicrobial solvent is a durable, always-on treatment that inhibits bacterial growth. 

"Our vision is to change washing and disposal habits, and significantly reduce the environmental impact of a product. When we met Returnity, we realized that our objectives were aligned and that there was an opportunity to work together to further enhance their reusable boxes and bags by treating them with ViralOff," said Polygiene CEO Ulrika Björk. "Anti-viral treatments have been a game-changer while navigating the pandemic, and we believe that these treatments will become the new standard for reusables in the future."