rmit ppe concrete
Researchers at RMIT say their pavement base course application could consume millions of used face masks to pave one mile of road.
Image supplied by RMIT University.

RMIT study points to pavement-related home for PPE

University in Australia researches using shredded masks as a base course material.

February 5, 2021

Researchers in Australia say they have figured out how to use shredded single-use face masks combined with crushed concrete in a highway base course application that meets civil engineering safety standards.

The researchers, based at RMIT University in Melbourne, say they have shown how disposable face masks could be recycled to make roads “in a circular economy solution to pandemic-generated waste.” The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 6.8 billion disposable face masks being used around the world each day, according to RMIT.

The Australian researchers say their study demonstrated that about one kilometer (.62 miles) of a two-lane road would use up about 3 million shredded masks, preventing 93 metric tons of waste from going to landfill.

The new road-making material developed by RMIT also uses recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) and meets civil engineering safety standards for base course, says the university.

“Analysis shows the face masks help to add stiffness and strength to the final product, designed to be used for base layers of roads and pavements,” states RMIT. The study has been published in the Ireland-based journal Science of the Total Environment, with Dr. Mohammad Saberian as the lead author.

“This initial study looked at the feasibility of recycling single-use face masks into road, and we were thrilled to find it not only works, but also delivers real engineering benefits,” says Saberian, who indicates the study was the first of its kind to investigate potential civil construction applications of disposable surgical face masks. 

In related work, the RMIT researchers say they also have investigated the use of shredded disposable face masks as an aggregate material for making concrete, with what RMIT calls “promising preliminary findings.”

Within the past year, the RMIT School of Engineering also has explored techniques for using scrap tires and steelmaking slag in concrete and paving materials.