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Over 200 million unusable masks will be burned

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By the end of March all the masks purchased in 2020 by the commissioner for the coronavirus emergency and never requested by the regions or other institutions will be burned: they are mostly masks made of fabric, with a poor ability to filter the air, not certified. There are many: 218 million and 500 thousand, according to the latest survey. They have never been opened and are still kept today in large boxes in warehouses in the northern and central regions. After trying in vain to sell them, the commissioner structure led by Francesco Figliuolo has published a tender to commission the demanding and expensive disposal.

The masks, called “community” masks, had been bought during the management of Commissioner Domenico Arcuri, replaced by Francesco Figliuolo in March 2021. In the first months of the epidemic, Arcuri had to cope with a serious shortage of masks due to the considerable demand which worldwide had exceeded production capacity. The commissioner structure managed to buy millions thanks to some intermediaries who opened commercial channels with foreign companies, especially Chinese. The supply of masks continued in the following months to supply schools, public offices, municipalities.

To respond to the great demand, not much attention was paid to the quality of the products purchased, to the point that many regional presidents and councilors they began to complain in particular of those that some called “pant”, because they are made of elastic material, difficult to wear and not very comfortable.

In more than two years of the pandemic, various researches have found that the tissue mask models, like the surgical ones, offer lower protection from infection than the FFP2 models that from December in Italy are mandatory to enter some places and get on public transport . Community masks were distributed in schools, where many have accumulated over the past year and a half. Many parcels have been returned to the commissioner, others are still stored in school warehouses or in unused classrooms.

When Figliuolo was appointed emergency commissioner, he realized that the masks had become a problem because they were no longer usable and above all bulky. Waiting to understand what to do with them, from April 2021 over 218 million masks, with a total weight of 2,500 tons, were then transferred to various warehouses managed by SDA between the North and the Center, at a storage cost of 313 thousand dolars per month.

Aware that the costs would not be sustainable for a long time, last year the officials of the commissioner structure had published two market surveys, the first in June and the second in October, to understand if there were companies on the market willing to buy them. The notices explained that the huge lot consisted of 73 million disposable masks in non-woven fabric, without elastics, but with only two cuts to put them around the ears. Another 140 million were colored masks, with no guarantee of protection from infection. The last 5.1 million masks instead had rubber bands and a thin metal bar to make the fabric adhere to the nose. Even in this case, however, the masks offered less protection even than the surgical ones. There was no potential buyer for both calls.

The structure thus decided to permanently dispose of the 2,500 tons of masks. To do this, in recent weeks he has made contact with some companies that deal with waste disposal. After collecting some estimates, the choice fell on A2A, a large company that deals with the waste of many northern cities, from collection to disposal. A2A was therefore awarded a credit line of almost 700 thousand dolars net, to be precise 698 thousand dolars plus VAT.

In determines of entrustment, which traces the management of these masks, the commissioner structure clarifies that “the masks have never been requested by the regions or by other affiliated entities and today they no longer find any possibility of use, thus determining the definitive impossibility of use”. Furthermore, the determination always explains that “the use of these products is no longer permitted by the regulations in force as they are non-certified devices, with poor filtering capacity that do not comply with the legal requirements”.

– Read also: Where do the used masks go?

On 3 March, two weeks ago, A2A began the reconnaissance of all the depots where the masks are kept in order to begin the analyzes in view of disposal. It has been estimated that 8 percent of the 2,500 tons will be recovered as recycled material. It is a percentage consisting mainly of paper and plastic material. The company explains that the remaining 92 percent of the 2,500 tons, that is the fabric, will be “destined for energy recovery at the group’s waste-to-energy plants”. Essentially, they will be burned for energy. According to the operational plans of A2A provided to the commissioner structure, the deposits located in the central regions will be emptied by 25 March, those in the northern regions by the end of the month.