Scientists discover face masks can be cost-effective additives in building concrete roads

Image courtesy of Jie Li, Image via Canva
  • To reduce pandemic waste, scientists in Australia found a way to repurpose face masks
  • They discovered that it can be an effective material in creating concrete roads
  • To be combined with recycled concrete aggregate, face masks makes the roads more flexible and lowers the production cost

Millions of face masks are being used daily across the globe. That means almost the same number is dumped in our landfills.

Image via Pixabay

However, we are not yet done with our plastic pollution issue and here comes another alarming concern that shouldn’t be taken sitting down.

But a new discovery has a promising outcome that could address the problem we are facing now. A group of scientists in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Melbourne Technical College in Australia found out that used face masks can be added to road-pavement mixtures avoiding the chances of them piling in the trash.

Besides, the roads would also benefit from the polypropylene plastic used in surgical face masks by making it more flexible, ductile and strong. The method could also lower down the cost of constructing them.

Jie Li and his team performed several tests in identifying the ideal mixture of shredded face mask (SFM) added to the recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) that would satisfy the stiffness and strength requirements of the road base. They identified that a mixture of 2% shredded face mask combined with recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) produced the best results.

Image courtesy of Jie Li

The material can be used to make 2 of the 4 layers needed in building roadways. For a 1 km two-lane road with a width of 7 m and a thickness of 0.5 m for base and subbase, 1% SFM is added to RCA. This would translate to 93 tons of shredded face masks, around 3 million pieces not ending on our landfills.

However, part of the limitations of the study is the use of fresh masks to avoid the contagion of COVID-19. In order to fulfill the aim to reduce pandemic waste, used face masks need to be disinfected, placed in an open area and exposed under the sun for a week before using them.

Currently, Li and his team are searching for private and government organizations that are willing to give their discovery a chance to make a large-scale test.