Discarded Face Masks to be repurposed for Making Pavements and Roads

Discarded face masks were not a problem a year ago, but since then the world has been rattled by the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected 106 million and killed over 2.3 million people, worldwide. As a safety precaution, face masks and face shields were recommended by the world’s top health experts; thus, began the pile of discarded face masks.

Scientists at Australia’s RMIT University are devising new ways to work with recovered waste items into high-performing road materials, including cigarette butts, discarded tires, and building rubble. As a way to tackle COVID-generated waste, they have revealed that discarded face masks can be repurposed as a construction material for pavements and roads. Their latest effort in using shredded face masks in a road material offers some unique engineering advantages.

Discarded Face Masks to be repurposed for Making Pavements and Roads

To tackle COVID-generated waste, discarded face masks can be repurposed to make roads | Image: RMIT University

According to the research team, nearly 6.8 billion disposable face masks are being used around the world each day since the pandemic began, generating gigantic amounts of waste. The team sought to utilize some of this waste by making it into a recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), which is made from processed building rubble and includes generally as part of the sub-grade base, sub-base, and asphalt layers that construct a road.

The team conducted experiments with various formulae for RCA that include different concentrations of shredded surgical masks that are made up of non-woven plastic layers. The suitable mixture had one percent shredded face mask to 99 percent RCA, which required civil engineering standards for use as the three base layers of a road.

First author Dr. Mohammad Saberian said,

This initial study looked at the feasibility of recycling single-use face masks into roads and we were thrilled to find it not only works but also delivers real engineering benefits. We hope this opens the door for further research, to work through ways of managing health and safety risks at scale, and investigate whether other types of PPE (personal protective equipment) would also be suitable for recycling.

Apparently, to build a two-lane road stretching for one kilometer, the new material would use around three million masks, which could prevent 93 tons of waste from ending up in landfills. However, the logistics of gathering that amount of discarded masks and transforming them into road material poses an entirely separate challenge; although the team hopes that this study can help reverse the environmental consequences of the pandemic.

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