A new line of face masks with recycled and biodegradable technology is making the current necessity less wasteful and prone to becoming potentially harmful litter.
Through a joint venture, supermodel, philanthropist and investor Natalia Vodianova and circular design and tech company Pentatonic created Masuku, a line of face masks made with not only 100 percent washable, recycled and recyclable materials, but with a fully compostable air filter. Created with an engineered polymer, the compostable filter is said to have an efficiency of at least 94 percent. By comparison, the typical blue surgical mask has filtration efficiency of between 40 and 70 percent, and the N95 mask has between 90 and 99 percent efficiency, depending on proper fit, according to medical research from the American Medical Association.
But Masuku, named for the Japanese word for mask, is not an invention to come out of the coronavirus pandemic. Vodianova said it’s been in the works since 2018, when she and Pentatonic partnered to make a sustainable mask to protect people from rising air pollution, particularly in urban environments.
“When we started the project we knew that developing a highly sophisticated air filtration was pointless if not fully sustainable at the core,” she added. But the pandemic did throw wrench in a planned rollout of the mask last year. Production was then in China, which was first hit by COVID-19, causing a delay that Masuku took to bring production to Europe, where Vodianova and Pentatonic are based. They’ve since opened a new research and development facility in Hellaby, Sheffield.
While Vodianova said she hopes “in the future, masks will not be needed” as they are amid the pandemic, she noted the desire to have Masuku “be the most technological and sustainable option to breathe clean air, while respecting it.”
Nevertheless, she does expect mask-wearing to continue post-pandemic as part of overall health and wellness efforts that have taken cultural hold.
“Think about it — we protect our skin, our eyes from the sun, we filter our water, yet very few consider the harmful effects of the polluted air we breathe on our health,” Vodianova said.
But masks, particularly ones deemed disposable or “single-use,” have become one of the most littered items in the world since the pandemic began more than a year ago, along with plastic gloves, according to environmental groups like Sierra Club. Billions of the items, which cannot be recycled, have made their way into the stream of commerce during the pandemic and ended up on many a sidewalk, gutter and beach in the end. Single-use masks are estimated take 450 years to decompose given their makeup of plastic fibers.
The Masuku One mask, currently the only style available, has “no impact on the planet,” Vodianova said.
The Masuku One mask also claims to offer “strong protection” from a range of airborne particles, including pathogens, allergens and pollutants. Another unique feature of the mask’s filter is the new “electrospinning process” it was created through. The process allowed the manufacture of a “highly uniform membrane” of fibers 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, according to the company.
Johann Boedecker, chief executive officer of Pentatonic, which operates between London and Berlin, said “significant time and resources” have gone into creating a mask with “better filtration, more breathability and unparalleled comfort and style.”
“This product is so advanced it avoids any compromises between comfort and function,” he said.
Boedecker added that a broader range of masks is coming in the future using the same fiber and spinning technology developed for the Masuku One. It goes on sale today for 49 pounds, or about $67 at current exchange.