Mask laws COVID-19 restrictions

The end of the State of Disaster won’t necessarily mean the end of COVID mitigations – Image: Adobe Stock

New study finds a clever use for discarded face masks: Building roads

A recent study in Australia has discovered that single-use surgical face masks can be used as materials for the construction of roads.

Mask laws COVID-19 restrictions

The end of the State of Disaster won’t necessarily mean the end of COVID mitigations – Image: Adobe Stock

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) have found that the single-use face masks used by billions of people across the globe every day can successfully be used to produce materials for road-building.

Face masks are legal requirements for the public in most countries. They serve as Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) which are used to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.


The pandemic has led to extraordinary requirements for most people across the world. The wearing of face masks in public is considered a good measure to help reduce the spread of the virus. As sa result, large numbers of single-use face masks are being used every day all over the world.

Both the production and disposal of billions of masks are having detrimental effects on the planet. Millions of them end up in landfill or find their way into the world’s oceans. More than 1.5 billion face masks are already believed to be polluting world’s oceans.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a global health and economic crisis but has also had dramatic effects on the environment,” RMIT’s Professor Jie Li said, as quoted by the MacArthur Advertiser.


The use of PPEs has grown exponentially during the pandemic. It is estimated that 6.8 billion disposable masks are used across the globe every day. This is not good news for the environment as many of these are discarded after one just one or two uses, resulting in increased volumes of waste heading for landfill sites.

“We know that even if these masks are disposed of properly, they will go to landfill or they’ll be incinerated,” Jie Li said.


dumped face mask
Discarded face masks are showing up everywhere. Image: Adobe Stock

He said the study was inspired by seeing huge numbers of used face masks littering streets in the area.  A team of researchers at RMIT University decided to investigate ways in which used face masks could successfully be used for other purposes.

“If we can bring circular economy thinking to this massive waste problem, we can develop the smart and sustainable solutions we need,” he said.


The researchers looked for innovative ways in which single-use surgical face masks could be used in other processes so they would not add to environmental degradation. The team produced a building material that could be used for the construction of roads. The mix consisted of shredded single-use masks (1%) and processed building rubble (99%).

The researchers found that incorporating shredded masks into the rubble added stiffness and strength to the mix. The product also complied with civil engineering safety standards.

“We were thrilled to find it not only works, but also delivers real engineering benefits,” Dr Mohammad Saberian, one of the researchers, said.

The study showed that three million recycled masks could build a kilometre of double-sided road. This would prevent 93 tonnes of waste from heading to landfill.