Face masks can save lives, but they could also help make roads, study finds. Here’s how

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    Tying the legs of animals together, swimming in the streets of the city and swimming in the oceans after traveling through sewers, the face masks found themselves on every nook and cranny of the environment ever since the epidemic began. .

    The litter seen today is just a glimpse of what the world might look like after an epidemic, but a team of engineers from Australia propose solutions to the growing waste problem: recycle masks in the streets.

    According to a study published on Monday in the journal Journal, not only will the plan prevent about 103 tons of masked waste from ending up in landfills, where they will rest for hundreds of years, but will also help increase sustainability on roads. Total Environment.

    The team says that its proposed method of recycling the masks used could also apply to other personal protective devices made of the same plastic material.

    Mohammed Saberian, lead author of the study, an engineering research assistant at RMIT University, said, “This preliminary study noted the feasibility of recycling single-use face masks in the streets and we were not only thrilled to see this, but the real engineering benefits from it Happened too. ” Australia said in a news release. “We hope this opens the door for further research, working through methods of managing health and safety risks and investigating other types of [personal protective equipment] Will also be suitable for recycling. “

    Engineers in Australia say that you can use and mix masks mixed with processed building debris to build roads and eliminate waste during and after the COVID-19 epidemic.

    Roads consist of three base layers – a subgrade, base and sub-base – coated with a layer of asphalt.

    Technically, crushed concrete pieces called “recycled concrete aggregates” can form three base layers on their own, but researchers learned that adding pieces of sliced ​​single-use masks to the mix made the road material stronger.

    In the real world, these roads, or the ghosts of COVID-19’s past, will be more capable of understanding the pressures of heavy vehicles and living longer lives without cracks.

    Engineers first removed the metal wires and earloops from the new surgical mask (they could not be used due to potential infection risks), then cut them into pieces one centimeter long and wide. They mixed 1%, 2% and 3% of the sliced ​​material into a mixture of processed building debris and performed standard road tests for stress, acid and water resistance, strength and deformation properties.

    According to the study, only 1% of the severed masks yielded the optimal mixture. Adding more of the mask material to the mixture decreased strength and hardness.

    These single-use coverings are made of various types of plastic. The layer of mask made of polypropylene – the plastic material used to make anything from lunch boxes to prescription bottles – contributes toward the extra strength in the street samples studied, the researchers said.

    Although the team built small slabs of road for their experiment, they say that about a half-mile road would use about 3 million masks, saving about 103 tons of waste from landfills.

    The recycling method can also reduce construction, renovation and demolition waste, which is about half of the global waste produced annually, the researchers said.

    The new material combines small strips of recycled concrete aggregates (left) and sliced ​​disposable face masks (right).
    The new material combines small strips of recycled concrete aggregates (left) and sliced ​​disposable face masks (right).

    According to an estimate, 6.8 billion disposable masks are being used every day worldwide, which according to the study is epidemic, which, even if properly disposed of, will still end up in landfills or turn into ashes. Because they are made of non-biodegradable materials, they can take hundreds of years to break down naturally.

    This means that wind and rain water can easily carry light masks to city streets, rivers and oceans, where they can injure wildlife. Over time, they will degrade into microplastics that can travel through food webs and end up where they started – in our hands.

    But there is hope for our post-pandemic planet.

    Researchers say there may be other ways to recycle masks used, such as in materials to make concrete. And given most personal protective equipment is made of plastic, it may also be able to be recycled in this way.

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