Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that around 54 thousand tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) are discarded worldwide every day, and that 129 billion masks are thrown away every month. This represents an ecological problem, so scientists around the world have been trying to create strategies to mitigate its impact.
In this context, engineers from the Royal Institute of Technology in Melbourne (Australia) have developed a new technique that allows recycling three of the most common PPE for use as reinforcing materials in a structural concrete. This innovative methodology, says the institution, has the potential to significantly reduce the waste generated by the pandemic.
During their research, the academics conducted three different feasibility studies, in which isolation coats, masks and rubber gloves were shredded separately, and added to the concrete in volumes ranging from 0.1 to 0.25% of the mixture.
The test results showed that rubber gloves increase the resistance of the material to compression by up to 22 %, while isolation coats enhance the flexural strength by up to 21 %. Likewise, found that the covers increase their elasticity by 12%.
According to the authors, by adding the appropriate proportions of the recycled material to the mixture, the overall resistance of concrete increases by up to 22 %, in addition to significantly preventing cracking.
"Although our research is at an early stage, these promising initial results are an important step towards the development of effective recycling systems, to prevent waste from disposable PPE going to landfills"said Rajeev Roychand, co-author of the study.
For his part, Jie Li, another of the authors, pointed out that the recycling of these large-scale sanitary waste in the construction industry would have significant environmental and economic benefits.
"With a circular economy approach, we could keep that waste out of landfills and at the same time squeeze all the value to create better products: it’s a victory on all fronts," he said. (Text and Photos: RT in Spanish)