Used face masks could be repurposed for making roads
A recent study published in the journal Science of The Total Environment has revealed that discarded, single-use face masks could be used to make stronger, cheaper roads. The study was conducted by researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia in a bid to find new ways to use disposed masks. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, tons of face masks have been thrown out, a situation that is worrying for a planet already overwhelmed with single-use plastics.
Researchers said that they have developed a new material that integrates shredded single-use masks with recycled concrete. According to the study authors, approximately 6.8 billion masks are tossed each day. All of these masks could be beneficial if they are repurposed.
Roads have been made of recycled materials before. Professor and lead author Jie Li explained that results from the team’s experiments show how using recycled concrete aggregate with shredded face masks could actually lead to stronger roads. Li said that the masks could be used for up to two layers of a road.
According to estimates, paving a two-lane road for 1 kilometer would require about 3 million face masks, equivalent to 93 tons of masks. This could ease the burden of waste on already overwhelmed landfills.
Adding masks to recycled concrete aggregate could improve road durability, ductility and flexibility. Because masks are made of plastic, which does not degrade easily, the roads would last longer. When it comes to the cost of building and maintaining roads, the use of recycled masks could also be cheaper. Li noted that mining materials from a quarry would require $50 per ton, while a ton of the recycled concrete aggregate would cost about $26. While the cost of extracting masks from landfills and disinfecting them might be high, Li said that it is worth it.
“Using face masks with recycled concrete aggregate as an alternative material would not only reduce pandemic-generated waste and the need for virgin materials but also reduce construction costs by about 30%,” Li explained.