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We Use 6 Billion Face Masks a Day—But Scientists Have a Genius Way to Turn Them Into Roads


A team of researchers in Melbourne, Australia found that adding millions of discarded face masks to road paving mixes reduced the environmental impact of the masks and reduced the cost of the road.

Just one kilometer of road would require three million masks, and the polypropylene plastic used to make single-use surgical masks increased the flexibility and durability of the road.

Almost immediately, the idea of ​​seven billion people putting on a few masks a week as the pandemic progressed began to sound alarms, and most people by this time will have noticed the scarcity of masks. discarded on roadsides and in garbage cans.

“If the historical data is a reliable indicator, it can be expected that about 75 percent of the masks used, as well as other waste related to the pandemic, will end up in landfills or floating in the seas.” write a july report of the United Nations.

Scientists from RMIT University published an article in the journal Total Environmental Science positing a pretty brilliant solution to the mask problem.

Jie Li and the team developed a new road construction composite that is a mixture of approximately 2% crushed masks, with Recycled Concrete Aggregate (RCA), a material derived from concrete waste and other minerals from demolished buildings. .

This ultra-recycled material was found in study ideal for two of the four layers generally used to create roads. Additionally, paving just one kilometer of two-way highway with the RCA would require three million face masks, resulting in a diversion of 93 tons of waste from landfills.

Plastic roads

In fact, the roads also gained greater flexibility, as the polypropylene helped to strengthen the junctions of the debris particles, as well as giving the particle aggregates some stretch.

CHECK OUT: The new biodegradable carbon negative straws and forks are made of greenhouse gases and dissolve in the sea

The final product is thus more resistant to wear and tear than normal asphalt, as well as being cheaper, as long as there is a method of collecting masks.

Li and his team did a cost analysis and I found that, At $ 26 per ton, the RCA was about half the cost of extracting virgin materials from quarries and up to one-third the cost of sending used masks to landfill.

RELATED: Scientists turn plastic waste into valuable products to create a larger market for waste materials

The expansion would be ideal for large infrastructure projects. For example, Washington, a remarkably progressive state, has the 11 the worst roads in terms of repairs missed in the US.

If the percentage of damaged roads in Washington state were repaired with the RCA / Li mask mix, nearly 10 billion masks would be needed, saving hundreds of millions of tons of masks from US landfills.

PLUS: Researchers make biodegradable dinnerware from sugar and bamboo to make them as cheap as plastic

According to Fast Company, Li and his team are looking for partners from private industry or governments who want to give their plastic mask path a chance for full-scale testing.

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