NCA NewsWire
NCA NewsWire

Clever solution to massive mask waste problem

Millions of disposable masks used and discarded during the pandemic could be recycled and enshrined forever into the country's roads, Australian scientists have revealed.

Researchers from RMIT University said recycled face masks could be used to make roads and pavements, with a one kilometre, two-lane road using three million masks and preventing 93 tonnes of waste going to landfill.

Scientists say roads made out of face masks are even more durable. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicholas Eagar
Scientists say roads made out of face masks are even more durable. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicholas Eagar

The scientists said shredded single use face masks and processed building rubble could be used to make roads that meet civil engineering safety guidelines - with research showing the mask materials add stiffness and strength to the construction.

"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," author Dr Mohammad Saberian said.

Researchers said the innovative solution would help manage waste generated from the pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jenny Evans
Researchers said the innovative solution would help manage waste generated from the pandemic. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Jenny Evans

"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."

The experiment found a mix of construction rubble and face mask material performed well against stress, acid and water resistance.

Scientists argued that not only would the innovative solution solve the issue of COVID-19 protective equipment waste but also lower Australia's significant levels of construction waste.

The proposal would mix face masks with building rubble material to form the base layer of roads and pavements. Picture: John Grainger
The proposal would mix face masks with building rubble material to form the base layer of roads and pavements. Picture: John Grainger

Construction, renovation and demolition account for about half of the waste produced annually worldwide, and in Australia, about 3.15m tonnes of processed building rubble is added to stockpiles each year.

"We know that even if these masks are disposed of properly, they will go to landfill or they'll be incinerated," RMIT engineering research team hear Professor Jie Li said.

"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."

Originally published as Clever solution to massive mask waste problem


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