The abaca tree, a relative of the banana, is producing a fiber that is being made into COVID-19 PPE products, including face masks. As strong as polyester but with the added benefit of organically breaking down, the abaca could help rid plastic pollution, which is seeing an uptick due to the discarding of single-use plastic PPE.
According to the UN, 75% of coronavirus-related plastic is likely to become waste, and a lot of it marine pollution. The abaca fibers are most used in banknotes (Japan’s yen), tea bags, Mercedes Benz cars, and high-end greeting cards. Historically, the abaca fibers were used as rigging in ships and for Manila envelopes.
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The Philippines is the largest producer of the abaca fiber, reportedly delivering 85% of global supply. Abaca has been gaining traction as a replacement for synthetics. The demand for abaca is projected to “grow exponentially,” the Philippine government notes – with 10% of all production being diverted to medical uses.