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Published: 03 June 2022

By Andy Ross

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Another use for face masks

The blue masks that many of us have been wearing throughout the last two years are presenting a problem.

Made of polyproylene and/ or polyester, these masks are good at filtering out microparticles but when it comes to disposal they resist organic breakdown and remain in the environment for a long time. Back in 2020 the problem was identified and work started on recycling the plastics and metal that go into the masks but not all the waste is able to be recycled and millions of the coverings are ending up in landfill and in the waterways and oceans. 

Now a Washington State Universtiy team has published a paper that offers a solution. The strong fibres in the masks could be a valuable commodity in the building industry. Concrete, the production of which is itself a carbon-emitting process, could be made stronger and more durable as well as lighter and more efficient with the addition of the fibres from the waste. It is a win-win, it seems, with fewer masks ending up in dumps and in the water, less concrete being produced and the material being stronger and lasting for longer. In addition, the concrete and mask mix is cheaper to make because it uses less of the raw materials.