Waterhaul, a Cornish-based social enterprise that specialises in recycling marine plastic waste into functional new products, launched a scheme to recycle single-use facemasks into waste-collection equipment.
Their ‘Retask the Mask’ crowdfunding campaign, which went live on Earth Day (April 22), reached its £5,000 target within just 5 hours and now has over 1,178 backers that have pledged a total of £32,318 for their circular economy litter pickers.
ATI2 were involved early on in the project and were able to support Waterhaul’s pioneering venture in a number of ways; initially with consultancy and later on with a grant to develop the design and tooling of the litter picker. Harry Dennis, Founder and CEO at Waterhaul, explains:
“ATI2’s grant supported us in developing the injection mould tooling for the litter picker components – helping us to produce more locally and more efficiently with an upgraded design”.
Harry’s Business Innovation Advisor, Chris Hassall, has worked with him since 2019 when he first started the business as a side hustle alongside his day job at Surfers Against Sewage. As sales grew, Harry was able to go full time in the business and Chris was able to help coach and support him on his journey.
“Working with Harry and watching him grow the business has been such a pleasure. This latest project has been a very exciting one and my role has always been to support entrepreneurs like Harry, to talk things through and bring in industry expertise when needed. Here we were able to do that by connecting them with specialist consultants in design and manufacturing”, says Chris.
Statistics reveal 58 million masks are used a day in the UK, making them one of the most common forms of plastic pollution, with an estimated 1.5 billion masks already entering the ocean.
As mask usage is still required as a preventative measure in the spread of Covid-19, these figures are expected to grow, causing lasting damage.
Waterhaul has trialled the project with Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust in order to source the mask waste needed to form their litter pickers, an activity which will also save the NHS from having to pay £550 per ton to incinerate the masks.
Instead, Waterhaul pay for each plastic block created by the hospital from melting down the masks using a dedicated onsite machine. Waterhaul use these plastic blocks to create litter pickers. Full-scale manufacturing of the recycled litter picker will be done in the UK and is set to begin in May.
“This new wave of plastic PPE pollution is a very real threat,” said Harry Dennis, CEO at Waterhaul.
“We’re aiming to turn this problem into part of the solution. By working with the NHS Trust, we can intercept this plastic at the source before it heads to landfill and create a useful product that will enable us to collectively tackle the masks which have already escaped into the environment.”
Roz Davies, general manager at The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, added: “The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been clear that its vision is to create a circular economy and tackle the growing challenges of single use PPE.
“It’s fantastic news for our staff, patients and visitors to know that we can create a positive outcome from our waste – and that it will go on to make even further positive impact in the form of litter pickers.”
Waterhaul is aiming to be part of a wider waste solution. Their aim is to inspire an environmental clean-up, globally and closer to home, by encouraging people to join in with their campaign.
Dennis added: “Studies have found that being in nature whilst taking positive action to protect it can deliver significant mental wellbeing benefits. This is so relevant at the moment, and as we move towards brighter prospects this Spring, we’re aiming to incorporate the ‘do good, feel good’ effect into the daily walks and exercise that have got us through lockdown.”
More information about the campaign, including how to support the project’s Kickstarter, are available at https://www.retaskthemask.com