• A Filipino high school student has developed a plant-based wax that has shown potential in increasing the lifespan and effectiveness of reusable masks.
  • Kiara Raye Cartojano, 18, said she hopes the project can reduce the number of disposable masks being thrown away in her city, which is estimated at more than 480,000 a day since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
  • This wax is made from the leaves of the taro plant, a common crop that has the potential to displace native vegetation and threaten agricultural crops.

SANTOS CITY APARTMENT, Philippines – Eavlinda Buhat, 57, said she couldn’t help but notice the number of disposable masks littering the beach in downtown General Santos City, on the southern island of Mindanao. Philippines, since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I have lived in this coastal community for a very long time… garbage is always an issue,” Buhat, who has lived in the city’s Purok Islam neighborhood for nearly 40 years, told Mongabay in Filipino. “But now it’s gotten worse as face masks and sometimes even face shields are left lying on the beach.”

With a population of more than 660,000, the city of General Santos generates nearly 140 tons of waste every day. According to the city’s waste management office (WMO), that includes about 480,000 masks that are now being thrown away daily since the pandemic broke out last year. These used masks often end up in environmentally sensitive areas if they are not collected efficiently, said John Duane Hitalia, WMO public service officer.

Thrown out to sea and washed ashore. In addition to organic waste from the marine environment, disposable (surgical) masks were also found on the beaches of General Santos city, southern Philippines. Pictures of Ethan Kisses Guevarra.

This problem prompted 18-year-old Kiara Raye Cartojano to develop a wax that improves the lifespan of reusable masks. Her ingredient of choice: taro leaves.

Having been involved in research since school, Cartojano is particularly interested in using waste or excess organic materials to create sustainable products. Her recent research, titled “TAKIP”, a Filipino word for “sheath”, explores the feasibility of using wax from heart-shaped taro leaves (Alocasia macrorrhizos) as a hydrophobic coating for reusable face shields.

The hydrophobic layer, which repels water, is an important feature that helps the mask protect the user from the ability to transmit COVID-19 and other pathogens. Cartojano conducted an experiment earlier this year dipping taro flakes in hexane, a petrochemical solvent she had access to during the experimental phase. As the solvent evaporated, it left behind a wax that she then applied to cotton squares to test for hydrophobicity.

Tests showed that applying taro leaf wax to a reusable cloth mask made the fabric hydrophobic, giving it a longer time to absorb water than samples without the coating. “Some reusable masks now even have slots in the middle of the fabric for filters,” Cartojano said. “Basically, the hydrophobic coating from taro leaf wax is just a more sustainable reinforcement for protection.”

1641699339 58 Plant based face masks This young Philippine inventor has you covered
Fresh catch. Eavlinda Buhat, a certified “taong-dagat” and resident of the Muslim coastal community of Purok in General Santos City for 37 years, was seen washing raw kalampay for her family dinner. Pictures of Ethan Kisses Guevarra.

Furthermore, harvesting taro leaves to turn them into wax will not harm the environment. Taro is a fast-growing plant that is widely grown in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including the Philippines. It can adapt and disperse widely and unchecked, possibly displacing other plant life.

Cartojano believes that turning taro leaves into wax is much better than letting them conquer agricultural areas. “In fact, taro can grow anywhere, even near canals, and its leaves are often just thrown away.”

Roden C. Yumol, a science teacher at Cartojano School, Shalom Crest Magician Academy, said the high hydrophobicity of taro was the main consideration in this study because it could act in conservation. mask guard. Yumol has also attested to the effectiveness of the leaves.

“Last year, we targeted the challenge of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] on the environmental impact of disposable masks. At first, many plants were considered, but in the end we found that for taro, no research had been done yet. Moreover, the hydrophobicity of the plant is very high, which is the main factor considered for protection in masks,” said Yumol.

“After testing, it was found that taro leaf extract works better if applied through a cloth as it will last longer. In addition to the test results, the feasibility of TAKIP has also been recognized in national and international scientific competitions,” said Yumol.

1641699339 644 Plant based face masks This young Philippine inventor has you covered
Behind the scene. The young researcher is preparing for a virtual oral presentation of his entry titled “TIP: Taro (Alocasia macrorrhizos) Leaf wax as a hydrophobic coating for reusable mask fabric” during the Fair National Research. Image provided by Kiara Raye Cartojano.

The research received citations in the ongoing Virtual Innovation Competition (VIC) 2021 Malaysia and was awarded the 4th Best Project in the Physical Science Category in the 2021 Research Fair of the Federation of Engineering Students. of Chemistry at the University of the Philippines (UP ALCHEMES).

“These recognitions in various competitions judged and critiqued by outstanding experts in their chosen field have firmly established that taro leaf wax is indeed a viable material for The mask is reusable and further studies are yet to be done to finalize the product,” Yumol said.

The research fair’s jury raised concerns that if TAKIP is applied unevenly on a cotton mask, the tiny pores in the material could allow water droplets (such as sweat and saliva) is still absorbed. They also recommend that skin allergy tests and a series of laboratory analyzes be conducted to check how effective the coated masks are at filtering out bacteria and viruses.

In an official statement to Mongabay, UP ALCHEMES expo organizers said TAKIP has the ability to address the pressing environmental concern that arose during this ongoing pandemic: recession. dilemma of mask handling.

“With promising results and locally available materials, the application of TAKIP to enhance reusable cotton masks could be a good alternative to single-use masks. From the mentioned awards, UP ALCHEMES can therefore ensure its viability as a scientific venture in terms of its effectiveness as well as its environmental and social potential,” the statement said.

With no guarantee of when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, Cartojano said it’s important to venture into sustainable alternatives to face masks and prevent more solid waste problems.

1641699339 139 Plant based face masks This young Philippine inventor has you covered
CAT. Poster by Kiara Raye B. Cartojano for her research on Taro Leaf wax as a hydrophobic coating for reusable mask fabrics, one of five finalists in the Alchemes competition” 2021 UP (University of the Philippines)”. Image provided by Kiara Raye Cartojano.

Ethan kisses Guevarra is a campus journalist in the City of General Santos. This story is part of the Association of Young Environmental Journalists’ (AYEJ.org) Green Beats Program.


Matthews, PJ, Agoo, EMG, Tandang, DN, Madulid, DA (2012). Botany and ecology of wild taro (Colocasia esculenta) in the Philippines: Implications for domestication and dispersal. Senri Ethnological Studies, 78, 307-340. doi: 10.15021 / 00002523

Banner image of Brian Yurasits used disposable masks via Unsplash.

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