Researchers have found a way to reuse disposable masks

Disposable masks were one of the weight weapons in the fight against the pandemic by COVID-19. Now, as the measures are being lifted in many countries and their mandatory nature is disappearing, a group of researchers has found a way to reuse them.

It seems unlikely, but apparently masks improve the strength of concrete.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, disposable surgical masks have become a mandatory accessory. Living up to their title, they ended up in the trash, as well as on the floor and other less indicated spaces. In fact, the impact that its disposal could have on the environment it was a problem placed on the table – because they are composed of a type of plastic that would take hundreds of years to degrade.

More than that, a study cited by Interesting Engineering estimated that pollution associated with masks increased by 9,000% as countries made them mandatory. Therefore, the billions of masks that were used during the period of the pandemic still represent a challenge for waste management.

So, a group of researchers from the Washington State University (WSU) has used disposable masks to improve concrete strength by up to 47%. The study was published in Materials Letters.

Disposable masks give concrete strength

Disposable masks can be made of polyester or polystyrene, polyethylene or polypropylene fabric. That is, thermoplastic polymers that can be placed in most shapes while working at high temperatures. In addition, the masks also have metal elements and cotton strips. The latter, although recyclable, usually end up in untreated waste heaps.

Therefore, according to professor Xianming Shi, from the WSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, disposable masks can be an asset. The discovery came when he experimented with the use of masks in concrete.

As indicated by other studies, the addition of microfibers increases the strength of concrete, consequently reducing carbon dioxide emissions from its production. So, WSU researchers developed a process to transform disposable masks into microfibers, with the aim of using them in concrete production.

By cutting the masks into strips five to 30 millimeters long and treating them with graphene oxide before mixing them into the cement, the researchers were able to eliminate fracture energy, which normally contributes to small cracks in concrete. Now, graphene oxide allows the microfibers to adhere to the surface. Without them, cracks can occur resulting in the eventual failure of the concrete.

In addition to the fabric of the disposable masks, the researchers also reused the metal elements and the cotton strips, grinding them and adding them to the cement.

Now, researchers are studying to determine whether the concrete is protected from damage caused by frost and continued use of roads.

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Source: Pplware by pplware.sapo.pt.

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