Turning Face Masks into Pavement

An innovative way to reduce pandemic-generated waste by recycling single-use face masks into pavement.

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Facemasks PavementPhoto supplied by Science of The Total EnvironmentThe coronavirus pandemic has caused many disruptions from business and economic impacts to the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and their haphazard disposal that has created an environmental burden. Disposable masks and gloves have become a more common sight left on city streets and retail parking lots and as Jim Blackerby of Louisville Pavement Sweep calls it, "the new cigarette butt". 

 A recent study conducted by RMIT University, and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment has found a way to repurposing single-use face mask for pavements base and subbase.

A series of experiments took place, including modified compaction, unconfined compression strength and resilient tests were conducted on the blends of shredded face masks added to the recycled aggregate for road base and subbase applications. By adding shredded face masks into the mix, it increased the strength and stiffness and improved the flexibility of the blend.

"The 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 it also delivers real engineering benefits," said Dr Mohammad Saberian, first author of the study.

The study identified an optimal mixture which consisted of 1% shredded face mask to 99% recycled aggregate. That mix design delivered the highest values of unconfined compression strength and the highest resilience.

Overall, this study proposed a new approach for reducing pandemic-generated waste by recycling the used disposable face masks with recycled aggregate in pavement base/subbase layers. The researchers also recommend future work to be assessed like the feasibility of using non-plastic face masks as another sustainable option to mitigate waste.

M. Saberian, J. Li, S. Kilmartin-Lynch, et al.,  Repurposing of COVID-19 single-use face masks for pavements base/subbase