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Face Masks Make Stronger Roads

Roughly 7 billion disposable face masks are being used around the world each day, generating massive amounts of waste. Australian scientists sought to make use of some of this waste by incorporating it into road building.

As part of their new study, the team from Australia’s RMIT University used shredded face masks in a road material they say offers some unique engineering advantages.


The researchers combined the waste into what’s known as recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), which is essentially a building material made of recycled clean concrete waste designed for reuse. After experimenting with different mixtures for RCA that included various concentrations of shredded surgical masks, the team found that the ideal mix was one percent shredded face mask to 99 percent RCA. Tests also revealed that the mask material improved the ductility and flexibility of the RCA blend.


“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,” says Dr. Mohammad Saberian.


According to the researchers, using the new material to build a two-lane road 0.6 miles long would use around three million masks and avoid 93 tons of waste going to landfill. And though the practicalities of collecting the masks and turning them into road material presents another challenge entirely, the team hopes its study can inspire others to bring circular economy thinking to this massive waste problem to develop smart and sustainable solutions.

 

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