RMIT engineers present a road to reusing billions of disposable masks


An RMIT University team has identified a way to reuse some of the estimated 6.8 billion single-use facemasks disposed of daily around the world, describing a road-making material that meets civil engineering standards and contains the equivalent of 3 million shredded masks per kilometre.

The team’s work was published in Science of the Total Environment, and according to RMIT is the first to investigate potential civil construction uses of disposable masks. It showed that the mix, which also contained recycled building rubble, also gained stiffness and strength through the use of masks.

One kilometre of road reused an estimated 93 tonnes of waste.

“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,” said lead author Dr Mohammad Saberian of the university’s school of Civil and Infrastructure Engineering.

“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 paper showed 1 per cent shredded face masks to 99 per cent recycled concrete aggregate (RCA, building rubble) delivered strength and saw good cohesion between the two materials. 

RCA can be used in subgrade, basesub-base layers, which are under asphalt in roads.
“Repurposing of COVID-19 single-use face masks for pavements base/subbase” can be read here.
Picture: RMIT
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