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Taiwan firm converts sugarcane into face masks
From:Focus Taiwan By Tsai Peng-min and Evelyn Kao

Taipei, Nov. 7 (CNA) Taiwan-based polyester and textiles producer Far Eastern New Century Corp. (FENC) has developed a bio-based material derived from sugarcane bagasse that can be used in the production of face masks.

The company plans to team up with major domestic mask makers to use the material for making medium- and high-end face masks, FENC told CNA recently.

While the qualities of bio-based fiber materials and petroleum-based synthetic fibers are similar, biodegradable materials are easier on the skin and have good moisture and water absorbing properties, the company said.

According to FENC, the use of bio-based materials can not only help reduce reliance on traditional petroleum-based materials in production but also reduce carbon emissions by up to 60 percent.

Biofiber materials are priced at about US$3 per kilogram -- about three times that of petroleum-based alternatives, FENC said.

Despite the higher price, some of the company's customers in Japan and Europe have expressed an interest in such materials, said a senior executive at FENC who declined to be named.

In addition to face masks, the biofibers can also be used to produce things such as diapers and alcohol wipes, according to the executive.

FENC is a prominent supplier of raw materials to face mask producers around the world. Last year, it supplied one-seventh of the world's total materials for face mask production.

To create more eco-friendly face masks, FENC has developed bio-based/biodegradable unwoven fiber materials, including a green polyethylene (PE) made out of sugarcane ethanol.

Face masks have become an essential personal item throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, discarded face masks are having an increasing impact on the environment.

According to international media reports, 129 billion single-use face masks are used monthly worldwide, equivalent to 540,000 tonnes of petroleum-based fiber waste.

To solve the issue of improper mask disposal and waste, Taiwan's businesses have spared no efforts in developing sustainable solutions to preserve the environment, according to Steven Chen (陳世中), the head of the Taiwan Nonwoven Fabrics Industry Association.

This has included developing biodegradable materials, reducing consumption of petrochemical products and increasing use of natural fibers, Chen added.

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