Wearing a face mask is arguably the first line of protection against the coronavirus. Unfortunately, once a face mask has been used many people often discarded it like any other piece of rubbish. As you would imagine, this has led to a massive increase in the amount of waste filling up landfills, public roads, drains, and the ocean.
To solve this issue, researchers from RMIT University have developed a way to construct roads using discarded facemasks as one of the main materials. The new road-making material developed by RMIT University researchers features a mix of shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble.
Did you know we use an estimated 6.8 billion disposable face masks a day across the globe? RMIT researchers have shown how masks can be recycled to build roads to tackle COVID-generated waste. https://t.co/e7oXzaF0ra
— RMIT University (@RMIT) February 3, 2021
According to the researchers, using the recycled face mask material to make just one kilometre of a two-lane road would use up about 3 million masks, preventing 93 tonnes of waste from ending up in a landfill, and best of all, the roads meets civil engineering safety standards.
“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,” said Dr Mohammad Saberian, author of the study.
When creating a road using regular methods, the construction process usually involves 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.
Processed building rubble, known as recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) can potentially be used on its own for the three base layers. But the researchers found adding shredded face masks to RCA enhances the material while simultaneously addressing environmental challenges on two fronts: PPE disposal and construction waste.
Researchers identified an optimal mixture of 1% shredded face masks to 99% RCA for constructing the new roads. This mixture delivers on strength while maintaining good cohesion between the two materials.
The mixture performed well when tested for stress, acid and water resistance, as well as strength, deformation and dynamic properties, meeting all the relevant civil engineering specifications.
“If we can bring circular economy thinking to this massive waste problem, we can develop the smart and sustainable solutions we need,” said Professor Jie Li, head of the RMIT School of Engineering research team.