Here’s a little eye-opener for you: the next time you go for a walk, take your eyes off the ground and see how far you can go without seeing a carelessly discarded face mask. In our experience, it’s no more than a block or two, especially if you live near a school. Masks and other disposal artifacts from the COVID-19 pandemic have become a threat, and countless billions of things will clog landfills, waterways and byways over the coming decades.
Unless, of course, they can be recycled into something useful, like the plastic housings used for rapid antigen testing. This comes to us through [Ric Real] from the Design and Manufacturing Futures lab at the University of Bristol in the UK. If this sounds or looks familiar to you, go back to October, when the same team presented a method to convert old masks into 3D printer filament. The current work is an extension of that, but transfers the polypropylene pellets recovered from the old masks to a desktop injection molding machine.
The injection molding machine is equipped with 3D-printed molds for the shells of lateral flow devices (LFD) used for COVID-19 rapid antigen testing. The maltooling is designed in Fusion 360 and printed on an Elegoo Mars MSLA printer using a high strength, temperature resistant resin. The molds withstood the manual injection molding process fairly well, producing good quality parts in the familiar blue and white colors of the stock material. Obviously it’s proof of concept, but it’s good to see someone thinking about what we can do with the megatons of plastic waste generated by the pandemic.