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Since the advent of COVID-19, Americans have been throwing out 94 million used face masks every week. As many as 376 million masks are likely entering landfills every month. That’s according to a study completed by Virtustatic Shield.

Masks contain several non-biodegradable components, such as plastics and synthetic fibers. Now some researchers have proposed a way to reduce this massive and ongoing source of waste. They say that face masks can be turned into roads.

Researchers in Australia have found that using recycled mask material to make just one kilometer of the road could prevent 93 tons of waste from piling up in landfills. That’s the equivalent of about three million masks.

A lab at RMIT University in Melbourne has developed a road mix made from shredded single-use masks. When combined with processed rubble, the final substance passes engineering safety standards. The face mask material adds stiffness to the road material product.

The mask-to-road-material may become more important ever as the pandemic wears on through 2021. Mask wearing is expected to continue into 2022. When you consider that 6.8 billion masks are being thrown out every day globally, the amount of waste produced becomes a matter of heightened concern.

Roads are built in four distinct layers. These are the subgrade, the base, the sub-base, and the asphalt on top. Each layer requires a degree of both strength and flexibility to make for safe and viable roads that are long-lasting.

The results of preliminary tests involving the addition of shredded mask material to recycled concrete aggregate rubble (RCA) used in the base and sub-base have been auspicious, researchers said. This kills two birds with one stone because RCA is often dumped in waste pits. RCA is produced when old structures, such as buildings or bridges, are destroyed and replaced with new structures. Combining RCA waste with face mask waste looks to be an excellent solution.

Professor Jie Li leads the RMIT School of Engineering team leader that is developing road materials from recycled products. He said shredded face masks would almost certainly have application in creating other materials, such as concrete used to make the walls of buildings or construction blocks.