Researchers at RMIT University have been researching methods to deal with the piles of discarded masks that are being generated during the pandemic. University researchers have shown methods of recycling discarded masks to make roads in what they call a circular economy solution for waste generated during the pandemic. Using recycled mask material to make a kilometer of a two-lane road could use up to 3 million masks and prevent 93 tons of waste from going to a landfill.
The material used to make the roads is a mixture of crushed disposable masks and processed construction debris. The material meets civil engineering safety standards. According to the researchers, their analysis showed that face masks help to add rigidity and resistance to the final product, designed to be used in base layers of roads and pavements. The new study is the first to investigate the potential applications of civil construction for disposable surgical masks.
Finding something to do with face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) residues generated during the pandemic is a serious concern. It is estimated that 6.8 billion disposable face masks are used worldwide every day. The study assessed the environmental impact and risks associated with the disposal of used PPE.
According to the study’s first author, Dr. Mohammed Saberian, the initial study looked at the feasibility of recycling single-use masks on roads. The team found that not only does recycling work, it also offers real engineering benefits. The team is currently investigating whether other types of PPE can be recycled using the same method.
The team says the roads are made up of four layers with subgrade, base, sub-base and asphalt at the top. The processed construction debris known as recycled concrete aggregate can potentially be used alone for the first three base layers. The researchers found that adding crushed masks to the recycled concrete aggregate improves the material while addressing the environmental challenges of disposing of PPE and construction waste. The ideal mix is from 1 percent masks torn to 99 percent recycled concrete aggregate, providing good cohesion and strength between materials.