The disposable masks we wear on a daily basis because of the pandemic usually end up in the trash can. And, from there, they usually go into landfills.
However, researchers have come up with a new method that could help use these masks for road making.
Namely, scientists from the RMIT University of Melbourne, Australia published a new study in the journal Science of the Total Environment about the new material they’ve developed.
This material is a combination of shredded, single0use facial masks and recycled concrete aggregate, a substance made from waste materials from demolished buildings; for example, chunks of concrete that’s later crushed up and recycled.
A New Way to Make Roads: Disposable Facial Masks?
This new material doesn’t only repurpose approximately 6.8 billion facial masks used on a daily basis globally, but it can also strengthen roads.
Unfortunately, disposable facial masks produce an immense amount of garbage; according to a report from July, the UN said that the single-use mask is a toxic problem and estimated that around 75 percent of these masks and other waste from the pandemic end in landfills or in our oceans.
Although you wouldn’t at first associate masks with roads, some roads are already constructed of recycled materials.
Namely, RMIT Professor Jie Li who also led this groundbreaking study said that the results from their experiments noted that the RCA combined with facial masks can be used for the 2 of the 4 layers that are used for road making.
According to their estimates, paving a road with two lines that’s one kilometre long will require around 3 million masks and thus, repurpose them from landfills.
This won’t just reduce the negative impact on the environment from the pandemic, but it can also improve road quality.
The researchers point out that the recycled concrete mixture is actually better for the road’s flexibility, ductility, and strength when compared to a RCA sample without the masks.
Why Do Single Face Masks Improve Road Quality?
The reasons for this are several. Namely, the single-use masks are made using one of the biggest enemies of planet earth-plastic, i.e. polypropylene.
And, our bodies will decompose before this plastic does! However, as it takes a long period of time to decompose, it makes the perfect road stuff.
Researchers discovered that the fibers in the masks help strengthen the bind between the rubble particles, making pavements sturdier than the other versions.
And, they also improve the stretching capacity between the particle aggregates. This contributes to a final product that’s highly resistant to tear and wear than other asphalts.
It’s also a Cheaper Solution
The cost analysis the team conducted showed that this procedure may help reduce costs for road making. They emphasize that mining virgin material is around $50 per a ton while RCA is around $26.
Still, the collection, disinfection, and transportation of the facial masks discarded in landfills could also raise costs; but, they should be compared to the additional costs of disposing them in landfills which is around $32 and $78 per a ton in Australia’s urban areas.
The researchers hope they’ll soon find a government or an industry partner that will build and test a prototype.