AUG 26, 2022 11:00 AM PDT

Recycling PPE to Make Stronger Concrete

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

When you’re done wearing that face mask, where does it go? 

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) skyrocketed near the beginning of the pandemic. Disposable face masks, in particular, saw significant usage rates. Over 4 trillion disposable masks were used in 2020 alone. And yet, where do these disposable masks end up? The answer: landfills, with some estimates suggesting that disposal PPE like face masks contributed up to 8 million tons of additional waste. This is particularly troublesome because many disposable masks contain plastics that are hard to break down. In all, face masks pose a significant environmental threat, and may still for years to come. The question is, what can we do about it? 

A team of researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) School of Engineering have published three studies that explore how disposable PPE could be reused in a productive way: reinforcing concrete to make it stronger. The studies are published in Case Studies in Construction Materials, Science of the Total Environment, and Journal of Cleaner Production.

Specifically, the researchers looked at three types of PPE in each separate study: isolation gowns, disposable face masks, and rubber gloves. The idea of using PPE was driven by a circular economic approach, which focused on maximizing the value of PPE. So, rather than ending up in a landfill, the goal is to find another way to get more value out of PPE beyond one-and-done usage.

In all, researchers found that, when shredded, PPE could be incorporated into concrete and improve its overall strength by as much as 22%. Working with Casafico Pty Ltd, researchers plan to test these findings in the actual field. 

More specifically, researchers concluded the following from their studies:

Rubber gloves

Shredded rubber gloves improved the compressive strength of concrete by around 22%

Gowns

Shredded isolation gowns improved the following in concrete:

  • Resistance (21%)
  • Compressive strength (15%)
  • Elasticity (12%)

Face masks

Shredded face masks improved compressive strength about 17%.

Sources: Science Daily; Sierra Club; Case Studies in Construction Materials; Science of the Total Environment; Journal of Cleaner Production

About the Author
Professional Writing
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
You May Also Like
OCT 22, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Cloud Cradles Haunted by Dark Planets
OCT 22, 2022
Cloud Cradles Haunted by Dark Planets
I have seen the dark universe yawning, Where the black planets roll without aim; Where they roll in their horror unheede ...
OCT 31, 2022
Technology
Blood Test for Diagnosing Alzheimer's
OCT 31, 2022
Blood Test for Diagnosing Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating neurological condition that affects about six million American adults, according to ...
NOV 15, 2022
Technology
Silicon-Germanium Materials Hold Advantages for Better Computer Chips
NOV 15, 2022
Silicon-Germanium Materials Hold Advantages for Better Computer Chips
In a recent study published in the journal Small, an international team of researchers led by the Vienna University of T ...
NOV 14, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Astronomers Have Discovered the Closest Black Hole to Earth
NOV 14, 2022
Astronomers Have Discovered the Closest Black Hole to Earth
Astronomers have discovered the closest known black hole to Earth. This historic discovery has been published in the Mon ...
NOV 23, 2022
Earth & The Environment
The Ecological Impact of Wind Energy
NOV 23, 2022
The Ecological Impact of Wind Energy
In a recent study published in Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers led by UC Santa Cruz examin ...
NOV 26, 2022
Technology
Researchers Control Hydrogels with Fuel
NOV 26, 2022
Researchers Control Hydrogels with Fuel
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers from the Delft University of Technology in T ...
Loading Comments...