How recycled face masks can be used to make roads

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  • Research indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic is contributing greatly to plastic pollution
  • This is a result of the spike in demand for PPE, which eventually ends up in landfills
  • Australian engineers found that face masks can be recycled and used to make roads

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for personal protective equipment – but this has led to an increase in waste, especially from single-use face masks.

Globally, an estimated 6.8 billion disposable face masks are being used on a daily basis.

A study investigating the accumulation of plastic waste during the pandemic found that PPE has caused a tremendous increase in pollution.

According to a more recent study, the solution to this mounting problem may lie in repurposing face masks – by using them in road building.  

Two birds, one stone

Researchers at RMIT University in Australia developed a road construction material consisting of shredded face masks and building rubble. 

By using these materials, the researchers have addressed two issues with a simple solution – they simultaneously dispose of PPE waste and building rubble. Dr Mohammad Saberian, first author of the study, points out that experts from a range of fields need to collaborate in order to minimise the impact the pandemic has on the environment, especially with regard to disposing of used PPE:

“We hope this [study] 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."

The road to reducing waste

Professor Jie Li, corresponding author of the study, said that the research team was inspired to incorporate face masks into construction material after seeing their surroundings littered with face masks.

“We know that even if these masks are disposed of properly, they will go to a landfill or they'll be incinerated,” Professor Li added.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has not only created a global health and economic crisis but has also had dramatic effects on the environment. If we can bring circular economy thinking to this massive waste problem, we can develop the smart and sustainable solutions we need.”

Image credit: Unsplash

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