Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed a new material that could recycle the 6.8 billion face masks we use each day. The material integrates shredded single-use face masks with recycled concrete aggregate (RCA). Adding this new material to roads could make them stronger, according to a study:
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Single-use face masks generate significant waste. In a July report, the UN called the influx of single-use masks a “toxic problem” and estimated that 75% of used masks and other pandemic-related waste will end up in landfills or floating in the oceans.
Roads might seem like an unlikely way to reuse masks, but some roads are already made of recycled materials. According to Jie Li, a professor at RMIT University who led the study, results from their experiment suggest that RCA mixed with face masks could be used for two of the four layers generally used to make roads. They estimate that paving a two-lane road that’s 0.62 miles (or one kilometer) long will require about 3 million face masks, rerouting 93 tons of waste from landfills.
Not only could the solution mitigate the environmental impacts of COVID-19, but it could also actually make the road work better. They found that the recycled concrete concoction can actually improve the road’s strength, ductility, and flexibility compared to a control sample of RCA without shredded fact masks in the mix.
Image via Fast Company