Covid-19 disposable face masks could be recycled to make roads: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 03, 2021

Could be a viable alternative to deal with pandemic-generated waste, say researchers

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have carried out a study to show how disposable face masks could be recycled to make roads.

According to the researchers, this could be a viable alternative to deal with pandemic-generated waste.

Their study demonstrated that using the recycled face mask material to make just one km of a two-lane road would use up about 3 million masks, preventing 93 tonnes of waste from going to landfill.

For this, the researchers have developed a new road-making material that is a mix of shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble designed to meet civil engineering safety standards.

Their findings show that the face masks help to add stiffness and strength to the final product, designed to be used for base layers of roads and pavements.

First of its kind

The study is the first of its kind to investigate potential civil construction applications of disposable surgical face masks.

First author Dr. Mohammad Saberian said in the study: "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 would also be suitable for recycling," he added.

Roads are made of four layers: subgrade, base, sub-base, and asphalt on top. All the layers must be both strong and flexible to withstand the pressures of heavy vehicles and prevent cracking, the researchers said.

They found that adding shredded face masks to RCA (recycled concrete aggregate) enhances the material while simultaneously addressing environmental challenges on two fronts: PPE disposal and construction waste.

The study identified an optimal mixture - 1 per cent shredded face masks to 99 per cent RCA - that delivers on strength while maintaining good cohesion between the two materials.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Published on February 03, 2021

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