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THE pandemic has made face masks quite the everyday wear. Unfortunately, due to their one-off use, they have also become quite the everyday trash.
Waste experts previously estimated that at least 10 million single-use face masks are used and discarded daily in the country. Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic is estimated to generate up to 7,200 tonnes of medical waste every day, much of which is disposable masks.
While vaccination rates are up, face masks are likely here to stay, at least for a while more. And Vince Koay and Leong Mun Chiew think there is a better way to make them more sustainable.
“Environmental issues are on the rise but the change needed to overcome this is not aggressively done. Then came the pandemic, which precipitated increased production of disposable face masks, bringing harm to the earth with its non-biodegradable nature,” notes Koay.
To help address the issue, the duo, co-founders of local face mask brand AiruFlo, sought a different way to produce face masks. They looked into using food-grade silicone to produce transparent reusable masks.
For sure, it wasn’t easy to persuade regulators and the market that its product could stand up to the task.
“We had a hard time convincing Malaysia’s Medical Device Authority (MDA) on the usage of silicone material as a mask since all the masks are made of non-woven or fabric material. The MDA also had to seek guidance from the World Health Organization for the approval of the mask,” shares Leong.
But after pouring about “half a million ringgit” into research and development and into obtaining all the proper regulatory certification, they went to market to gauge consumers’ response to their product.
“Fortunately, most of our AiruFlo users understood that this is a new innovation and they have been very supportive and have given a lot of feedback to us.
“We put a lot of focus on airflow engineering and it took us almost two years to refine and improve on the product based on users’ feedback,” says Leong.
AiruFlo is a product under Introvert Lab, a subsidiary of MYM Technology. Introvert Lab is a startup consisting of engineers, designers and yes, introverts. The masks have a modular design that requires users to only replace its N95 filters. The product has been approved by the MDA and the United States Food and Drug Administration, according to the company.
“We understand that there are a lot of medical products in the market that do not have the required approval from authorities so we worked hard to obtain the approval from MDA,” adds Koay.
They also managed to convince several boutique pharmacies to carry their product. Notably, many were reluctant to have the product on their shelves as it requires a lot of attention, especially when it comes to explaining the functionality of AiruFlo to buyers.