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CPAP masks are a standard medical treatment for some respiratory illnesses and can be used by many patients to recover and health management. They are also made from a commonly used and recyclable material, which is rubber silicone.
CPAP masks are recyclable, both in that they can be donated to patients who need them if they are not too old and in that they can be melted down to produce other silicone products, like adhesives.
This article will discuss ways of recycling your CPAP mask, including both donations and silicone recycling programs.
Donating Your CPAP Mask
Several major organizations have organized CPAP mask and machine recycling programs, and it is also possible to donate to local healthcare facilities.
The American Sleep Apnea Association, which has a robust recycling program (The CPAP Assistance Program), recommends that all donations at the present moment be made to local clinics, sleep labs, hospitals, or Red Cross chapters for use in fighting COVID-19.
Their ordinary program, which is suspended for the time being, allows people to pass their sleep therapy equipment on to another patient in need. The recipient pays $100 to the organization for processing, handling, and shipping.
The Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research and Education Foundation also accepts donated machines, provided that they are not too old or worn.
Be sure that you choose a reputable organization to donate your mask, whether it be one of these or a local medical clinic or hospital. The masks must be used responsibly by people who need them and adequately sanitized before use.
Although there are no laws against donating your mask directly to a person without a CPAP prescription, you should be careful about sharing respiratory equipment, especially in the time of the COVID-19 global pandemic. COVID-19 can spread quickly through CPAP equipment if it is not cleaned or used correctly.
How to Tell if Your Mask Can Be Donated
Ideally, donated masks and machines should be less than seven years old and come from a smoke-free and pet-free household. Like the American Sleep Apnea Association, some organizations provide a comprehensive list of acceptable machines for donation, including age and amount of usage. Other organizations ask for photos of the equipment.
A mask should also be thoroughly cleaned before being donated, in the same way, that you would perform your daily mask cleaning: with soap and water or with soap and vinegar. Soak the mask in a cleaning solution for 30 minutes, then wipe it clean with warm water and a fuzzy cloth. After that, let the mask air dry until it is dried completely.
Who Uses Donated CPAP Masks?
CPAP masks and machines can be donated and then resold at a lower price than a new mask or cleaned and then used in a medical setting.
CPAP Machines for COVID-19
CPAP machines can be used in emergencies to treat patients with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19, although ventilators are necessary for the most severe cases. This is because CPAP machines can be modified to provide BiPAP therapy, which is similar to CPAP therapy but involves two kinds of air pressure: inhalation and one for exhalation.
However, CPAP machines should only be repurposed for COVID-19 patients in emergencies, when there is a shortage of ventilators. Because they aerosolize the virus, they can increase the spread of infections. One nursing home in Washington state saw a spread of COVID-19 likely due to CPAP machines’ use.
The best way to donate a CPAP mask for use by a coronavirus patient is by working with your local healthcare systems to be prepared to clean the mask effectively and use it appropriately. To find one, search for a donation drive held by health professionals in your area.
Who Else Uses CPAP Masks?
The most common medical issues treated with the use of a CPAP machine are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), both of which are serious conditions treated with the same kind of CPAP therapy.
OSA causes patients to repeatedly stop and start breathing throughout the night, which can cause minor symptoms like headaches and sleepiness and major symptoms like depression and heart disease. It gets worse over time unless treated with the use of a CPAP machine.
COPD is also a progressive disease, causing difficulty breathing and chest discomfort that can become quite severe if left untreated.
Selling a Used CPAP Mask
Although a prescription is necessary to purchase a CPAP machine, a CPAP mask can be bought and sold by anyone without a doctor’s permission. Selling your old mask, like donating it, can provide more affordable equipment to people who need it and who may not have the insurance necessary to cover the cost of new equipment.
Like when you are donating equipment, be sure to check first for signs of wear and tear and avoid selling old or dysfunctional equipment. Be sure to provide photos, information about the model, and specifics about the age and wear. You should also be sure to clean the equipment before selling thoroughly.
What CPAP Masks Are Made Of
CPAP masks are made from hard, rubbery silicone, which seals out water and resists damage to its structure. If your mask is too old or worn to be donated, know that its silicone is also useful in many different forms.
Silicone is a non-toxic material used as a liquid (oil) or as a paste (grease). It is used for all of the following products, including sensitive applications and industrial strength solutions:
- Sporting goods like diving masks and goggles
- Exterior paints and road coatings
- Bakeware and cookware
- Construction adhesives for commercial architecture
- Sealants and caulks
- Aviation-related sealants and adhesives
- Solar panels
- Personal care products (shampoos, cosmetics, lotions)
- Coatings for airbags
- Tubs, sinks, and showers
- Kidney dialysis components
- Pharmaceutical products
Is Silicone Recyclable?
Silicone takes centuries to break down, so silicone pieces tend to spend a long time sitting in landfills. This makes silicone safer to use than other plastics, which break down into ingestible microplastics that cause sickness in animals and people. However, it also makes silicone a long term resident of the landfill once it’s thrown away.
Recycling silicone is possible, even multiple times. Specialized recycling companies collect silicone products and melt them down into an oil to be used in industrial settings or playground mulch.
Recycling Your CPAP Mask As Reusable Silicone
Because a CPAP mask is made of silicone, you can remove the straps and cushions, if your mask has them, and then drop them at a specialized recycling center that processes silicone rubber. They can then be melted down and reshaped into other solid silicone rubber objects, or more likely, melted into a liquid adhesive.
Donating your CPAP mask retains more value than recycling your mask as silicone because the melted version of the product is much cheaper and less specialized. For that reason, you should only recycle your mask in this way if it is very worn, old, and unusable by another patient.
CPAP masks are reusable by other patients, so long as they are not too old or worn down, and several organizations have specialized programs for CPAP mask and machine donations. They can also be reused as silicone, melted down at specialized recycling facilities to create other products, like industrial adhesives.
- Chemical Safety Facts: Silicone
- Silicone: The Plastic Alternative
- The CPAP Assistance Program – How You Can Help by Donating Your Used CPAP
- American Sleep Association: Donate Your CPAP
- The CPAP Shop: Can CPAP Machines Be Used as Ventilators to Treat COVID-19?
- Spectrum Health: Support Healthcare Workers in the Fight against COVID-19 by Donating Unused CPAP Devices