Whether we like it or not, most of us will be wearing masks in public for some time to come. We have learned a lot in the past months about different types of masks, and they have made inroads into our daily lives in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Simple cloth masks are the most common kind and when worn over the mouth and nose, offer fairly good protection in the private sphere. But they are not effective enough to serve as personal protective equipment, or PPE. Particle-filtering half masks that also protect the wearer from droplets and aerosols are a better option. They have gotten a bit hard to get your hands on though and are reserved for health-care workers and high-risk patients in most places. Still, it would certainly keep us all safter if everyone had access to better masks to prevent infection.
Now the New York designer duo Elizabeth Bridges and Garrett Benisch have conceptualized a new take on mask manufacturing method for growing effective, particle-filtering masks at home – with the help of bacteria.
The duo cites scientific studies showing methods for controlling the porosity of the material, and speculate that these methods could be a path toward mimicking the filtration properties of current synthetic masks like surgicals and N95 masks. N95 standard means that they filter at least 95% of airborne particles, roughly comparable to European FFP2 masks. Not enough testing has yet been done to confirm this claim, but even so, the product offers a range of advantages once its concept has been fully developed. As the transparent membrane can easily be composted after use, it is hard to think of a more ecological option.
The designers claim the material filters at least 95% of airborne particles.
DIY mask: as organic as it gets
This is how it works: Start with water, sugar, tea and a special type of bacteria extracted from kombucha. Combine in a container. As the bacteria reproduce in the solution, the cellulose fibers knit together to form solid membrane. Once it is thick enough, simply hang it up to dry. Once dry, a good oiling creates a solid, flexible and waterproof membrane that looks and feels a bit like leather and is easy to cut and make into a mask. The designers suggest an additional hack: “Because the bacteria knit to the shape of the container they are in, products can be grown in specifically shaped molds so that the sheets fit standard specifications."
The whole process takes two weeks, and the masks can be worn more than once. The best part is that you can simply compost them along with the fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen. And unlike other masks, they are transparent. This is not only a huge plus for people who depend on lip-reading. After all, a friendly smile is surely one of the best gifts we can give or receive during the coronavirus pandemic.
Please note: For now, this idea is still a concept and NOT YET a way to grow masks that keep you safe. We like the approach, that's why we decided to show this as an opportunity.