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The coronavirus pandemic has created a major plastic problem with nearly 130 billion facemasks being used globally every month.
To prevent landfills from overflowing, scientists are working on novel ways to use the masks.
Recently, a research team found that the discarded items can be mixed with concrete to create a stronger material, New Atlas reported.
Previous findings have shown that concrete becomes less prone to cracking when tiny reinforcing fibers are mixed into it before it’s poured. In their new study, the team tested whether the polypropylene or polyester fabric in discarded face masks could be a source of those fibers.
The researchers shredded the masks into fibers ranging from 5 to 30 mm in length.
They then mixed the fibers with a graphene oxide solution coating to help the material bond with Portland cement paste, the most commonly used type of cement in the world.
After a month, the fiber-reinforced concrete displayed 47 percent more splitting tensile strength than untreated Portland cement. But the special concrete showed a minuscule three percent decrease in compressive strength.
Still, lead author Xianming Shi said the masks “could be a valuable commodity if you process them properly.”
But face masks aren’t limited to reinforcing concrete: Last year, Australian researchers discovered that face mask fibers could strengthen asphalt and other road materials.