Story at a glance

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an extraordinary increase in the production and use of disposable masks.
  • Engineers from RMIT University in Melbourne say they have developed a new material made from shredded single-use masks and processed building rubble from demolished buildings that can be used to make roads.
  • A study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found using the material to make 1 kilometer of a two-lane road would use approximately 3 million masks.

Researchers are working on innovative ways to recycle the influx of single-use surgical masks that are being used to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an extraordinary increase in the production and use of disposable masks, which generate a large amount of waste. The United Nations last summer warned that around 75 percent of the used masks, as well as other pandemic-related garbage, will end up in landfills or in oceans. 


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With millions of disposable masks being used around the globe each day, engineers from RMIT University in Melbourne say they have developed a new material made from shredded single-use masks and processed building rubble from demolished buildings that can be used to make roads. The material could help reduce the vast amount of litter currently being generated from coronavirus personal protective equipment (PPE). 

A study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found using the material to make 1 kilometer of a two-lane road would use approximately 3 million masks.

“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,” Mohammad Saberian, an author of the study, said in a statement

The analysis found the material could be used for two of the four layers generally used to make roads. Researchers also found that adding shredded face masks to the processed building rubble, known as recycled concrete aggregate, can increase the road’s strength and make it more flexible while meeting all relevant civil engineering specifications. 

“We hope this 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,” Saberian said. 


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Published on Feb 08, 2021