The COVID-19 pandemic has upset all our ways of doing things and shattered all our gains. In a short period of time, the world’s population has had to change its lifestyles and must now learn to live with a “new normal”.
From the very first days of this health crisis, the difficulty of obtaining masks was identified as a critical issue for the safety of health care workers. In the longer term, with the gradual deconfinement, wearing face coverings (or non-medical masks) has become a recommendation for the entire population, giving rise to an unprecedented demand for this product.
Rapid action in response to the lack of essential equipment
In order to determine how the forest sector could contribute to the urgent need for essential equipment, FPInnovations asked a team of researchers to develop an action plan involving a very short timeframe to produce safe face coverings and packaging.
The approach is based on the conviction that the pulp and paper sector, by transforming its operations, has the capacity to quickly respond to sudden demands for large quantities of products, as is the case for face coverings for the general population. This response is also supported by a guarantee of a national supply of raw material, which is provided by wood fibre from Canada’s forests.
“This approach is intended to develop a winning formula that can be applied to COVID-19, but that will also allow the forest industry to be proactive should other extraordinary situations occur,” stated Jean Hamel, Vice-President, Industry and Member Relations at FPInnovations. “We’re looking to be part of the national effort to produce face coverings, which are also made from a bio-based material.”
An eight-week sprint
This work plan was initially aimed at producing high-performance filtration membranes to be used in making masks for the general population. Early results have already been validated and samples are currently being tested in FPInnovations’ Pointe-Claire laboratories. If the results are conclusive, it is conceivable that Canada could rapidly manufacture and supply face covering manufacturers with large quantities.
Another avenue of research being explored by the organization is the development of safe and sustainable bio-based packaging. Recent studies have shown that the coronavirus lives on paper or cardboard for approximately 24 hours. By modifying the composition of packaging with conventional methods, the goal is to reduce the deactivation of viruses to as little as one hour and thereby help break the chain of infection that threatens people in all supply chains of everyday goods and medical supplies.
Learning for the future
We all have a duty to follow the measures recommended by the institutes of public health to protect ourselves in this time of pandemic. Through this work, FPInnovations hopes to develop quick solutions to offer additional protection to the public. More importantly, it hopes that this pandemic will provide the industry with lessons learned on how to quickly respond to any other situation that may arise.