London, Ont. hospital first in Ontario to offer eco-friendly masking

St. Joseph's Health Care in London, Ont., has become the first hospital in Ontario to use planet-friendly masking. Abigail Turner / Global News

St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont., has become the first hospital in Ontario to use planet-friendly masking in an effort to simultaneously protect the environment along with staff, physicians, patients and visitors.

The new green alternative mask, known as the Viraloc eco mask produced by PADM Medical based in Winnipeg, MB, is medical grade and certified while also biodegradable and compostable.

According to the hospital, the new masks are made from plant-based biopolymers found in renewable crop resources, and the masks not only meet the gold standard for protection, but also boast of an “impressive carbon offset — producing 65 per cent less CO2e emissions over its life cycle than a synthetic mask.”

“We were thrilled to be able to partner with a Canadian company that shares our values around planetary health and environmental stewardship,” said Lori Higgs, vice president of clinical support and chief financial officer at St. Joseph’s. “What we’ve observed throughout the pandemic is such an increased demand in the use of masks.”

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Higgis said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital’s mask utilization alone has increased by 813 per cent.

“You can imagine with that increasing utilization, and the former style of masks that we were using that is not biodegradable or compostable, the negative impact we were having on our environment was significantly increased,” she said.

Due to the pandemic, health officials said that microplastic waste caused by disposable face masks has become a raging environmental issue around the globe.

Across the organization, about 1.5 million masks are used per year at the current use rate.

In looking to reduce their environmental footprint in synthetic mask consumption, the hospital first heard about the planet-friendly masks through industry networking last summer through Healthcare Materials Management Services, which consolidates purchasing for St. Joseph’s and the region’s hospitals.

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“We came across masks that are made out of biocarbons or natural materials, and we brought the opportunity to Lori and the team at St. Joseph’s,” said Toby O’Hara, general manager of Healthcare Materials Management Services. “We were pleased to find a mask that not only protects all those who work or receive care at St. Joseph’s, but also benefits the environment.”

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O’Hara added that “it’s an emerging trend to take care of our environment,” and that the hospital is “proactively looking for ways to make improvements.”

In ensuring the masks’ effectiveness, Higgs said that the hospital has “an internal testing protocol that we’re required to go through to make sure that the masks are safe and effective for use in both patient care but also providing the appropriate safety for staff.

Notably, the hospital said that the new masks are also less expensive than the current synthetic masks St. Joseph’s has been using.

But according to Higgs, the selling feature for St. Joseph’s in implementing these new masks was “an opportunity to significantly reduce consumption of single-use plastics without compromising on breathability, filtration or splash resistance.”

“We are pleased to lead the way in the province with a switch to a green mask that is a healthy solution for the environment and our care teams,” she said.

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O’Hara added that “it really is a win-win-win on a number of variables.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: The growing problem of disposable PPE waste'
Coronavirus: The growing problem of disposable PPE waste

The switch is happening gradually as stocking of the mask began at St. Joseph’s in mid-December and is expected to be fully implemented by this month.

The mask is currently used by major hospitals in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and multiple retirement homes across Canada.

“We are very excited to be working with St. Joseph’s Health Care London as the first Ontario hospital to fully integrate Viraloc eco as a sustainable alternative,” said Kyle Fiolka, chief innovation officer with PADM Group.

Having implemented some of the new masks within the hospital already, Higgs said that the response from both staff and physician groups has been positive.

“We’re really embracing planetary health and anytime we’re able to partner with someone in an innovative way that keeps our patients and staff safe, but also improves the environment, they’ve all been on board,” she said.

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“This particular mask, I think, is just the start of something really interesting for St. Joseph’s,” O’Hara said. “The emphasis on what the product is made of is just step one, and there’s so much more about how often you can use these kinds of products and then what happens when you’re done using them that just changes your procurement strategy.”

“It’s really just keeping our eyes and ears open for those opportunities and continuing the journey into the future,” he said.

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