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Calgary-based manufacturer says it's created country's first supply of 100% compostable PPE

A Calgary-based company is joining up with a Winnipeg company to manufacture what they believe is the country's first 100 per cent compostable personal protective equipment (PPE)— although they're still in the process of getting it accepted at Canadian composting facilities.

Still in the process of getting products accepted at Canadian composting facilities

A Calgary company that, prior to the pandemic, made specialty tubes and cables for oil and gas is now making compostable protective medical equipment. (Precision ADM)

A Calgary-based company is joining up with a Winnipeg company to manufacture what they believe is the country's first 100 per cent compostable personal protective equipment (PPE)— although they're still in the process of getting it accepted at Canadian composting facilities.

Calgary-based Roswell Downhole Technologies Inc., has been acquired by Precision ADM, a medical device company and global engineering and manufacturing solutions provider based in Winnipeg, the companies announced last week.

By October, the two companies intend to be operating two facilities, one in Calgary and one in Winnipeg, using crop-based biopolymers to make compostable, medically certified fabric in a full range of surgical medical masks, gowns and other medical PPE, air and water filtration products, and personal hygiene products.

The companies expect to create 350 jobs in the two prairie cities.

Kyle Fiolka, president of Roswell, told CBC News the company's specialty used to be making downhole cables for oil and gas well monitoring.

But the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it to switch gears.

"We were in oil and gas producing tubing, but our asset was actually our ability to invent and innovate new processes because that's actually what we had spent most of our careers doing," he said.

When the opportunity arose to instead produce something needed during the pandemic more than a year ago, he and his partner at Roswell started doing some more research.

In just seven days, the two started making meltblown filter media — the fabric needed to make face masks.

"We became very quickly a leader in this space because frankly, Canada didn't have a lot of that capacity, even in large scale prior to COVID."

As the new venture took off, so did the number of ideas they had for it. Since most medical equipment is made from oil-based polypropelene, Roswell used crop-based biopolymers to make the compostable, medically certified fabric.

"Then the conversation started to continue on, like we can push this into respiration," he said.

"You see gowns on medical workers, those are all materials that could be produced in Calgary with sustainable materials that have a carbon offset associated with them."

Fiolka says Roswell can make enough meltblown material to produce up to 50 million masks or other compostable PPE.

"Our vision is to, you know, really address all of the gaps we saw during COVID with supply chain and offshore purchasing and quality," he said.

"You know, get all of these other products across the finish line so we can make as big of a carbon impact in the medical space and in non-medical space as we can."

The two companies are still awaiting ASTM D6400 certification, which validates that their products meet requirements at municipal or industrial composting facilities.

In an email to CBC News, Precision ADM declined to say what exact material was in the product, saying it's proprietary information.

However, it did say the bio material is meant to be composted in an industrial composting facility rather than a backyard composter — so high temperatures and an oxygen-free environment can decompose the product without adverse greenhouse gases.

The quest for compostable plastics

Making products compostable isn't a guarantee that they'll be accepted by composting facilities and programs in a given region, especially compostable plastics.

As CBC science writer Emily Chung explained in a 2020 article, a benefit of degradable or compostable plastics is that they can theoretically reduce harm to wildlife and ecosystems caused by traditional plastics and reduce the need for landfill space. That's because they can be broken down completely into carbon dioxide, water and compost under certain conditions without leaving behind microplastics.

That said, Chung continued, even popular compostable plastics such as PLA (polylactic acid), which is used to make drinking cups, clamshell containers and plastic cutlery, are not accepted by most municipal composting programs in Canada, and some commercial ones.

That means they're often sent to landfill, where one study estimated they would take more than a century to break down and another found they would release the potent greenhouse gas methane during decomposition

Clarifications

  • This article was updated after its initial publication, including to make it clearer in the lead sentence that the companies are still going through the process to get their products accepted at Canadian composting facilities. More details were also added about the challenges of composting some products such as many compostable plastics.
    Aug 17, 2021 4:17 PM MT

With files from Rick Donkers and Emily Chung

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