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Natural Awakenings

Discarded Safety Gear Used to Build Highways

Discarded disposable face masks recycled, reused or repurposed

tKompor/Adobestock.com

With the plethora of used, disposable face masks accumulating worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, avenues of incorporating them into the recycling stream are underway. An estimated 6.8 billion disposable masks are used around the world each day. Researchers at RMIT University, in Melbourne, Australia, have formulated a new road-making material comprised of a mix of shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble designed to meet civil engineering safety standards.

Their study in the journal Science of the Total Environment shows that using the recycled face mask material to make one kilometer of a two-lane road would use up about 3 million masks, preventing 93 tons of waste from going to landfills. Roads are made of four layers—a subgrade, base, sub-base and asphalt on top. All the layers must be both strong and flexible to withstand the pressures of heavy vehicles and prevent cracking. Processed building rubble, or recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), can be used on its own for the three base layers, and adding shredded face masks to RCA enhances the material while addressing environmental challenges.

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