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Clever solution to massive mask waste problem

Angira Bharadwaj, February 3, 2021 6:45PM The Daily Telegraph

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A man wearing a face mask walks past a sign advertising masks in Melbourne on July 20, 2020. Picture: AFP media_cameraA man wearing a face mask walks past a sign advertising masks in Melbourne on July 20, 2020. Picture: AFP

environment

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Millions of disposable masks used and discarded during the pandemic could be recycled and enshrined* forever into the country’s roads, Australian scientists have revealed.

Researchers from RMIT University said recycled face masks could be used to make roads and footpaths. A 1km, two-lane road would use three million masks and prevent 93 tonnes of waste going to landfill.

NCA NewsWire media_cameraA discarded disposable COVID-19 coronavirus mask is pictured on a Sydney street. Picture: NCA NewsWire

The scientists said shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble could be used to make roads that meet civil engineering safety guidelines – with research showing the mask materials add stiffness and strength to the construction.

“This initial study looked at the feasibility* of recycling single-use face masks into roads and we were thrilled to find it not only works, but also delivers real engineering benefits,” author Dr Mohammad Saberian said.

“We hope this opens the door for further research, to work through ways of managing health and safety risks at scale and investigate whether other types of PPE would also be suitable for recycling.”

The experiment found a mix of construction rubble and face mask material performed well against stress, acid and water resistance.

Scientists argued that not only would the innovative solution solve the issue of COVID-19 protective equipment waste but also lower Australia’s significant levels of construction waste.

Construction, renovation and demolition account for about half of the waste produced annually worldwide, and in Australia, about 3.15 million tonnes of processed building rubble is added to stockpiles each year.

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

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created a global health and economic crisis but has also had dramatic effects on the environment.

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

Peninsular freeway cost blow-out story. Roadwork ahead sign. Speed limit sign - 60. media_cameraShredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble could be used to make roads that meet civil engineering safety guidelines.

GLOSSARY

  • enshrined: preserved forever
  • feasibility: whether something will work and is worth doing
  • incinerated: burnt to destroy something

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the main news in this story?
  2. Why are there so many face masks around?
  3. Where do the researchers work?
  4. What will the face masks be mixed with to make roads?
  5. How much building rubbish goes to landfill each year?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Create an Advertisement
How could you encourage people, businesses and places like hospitals to recycle the thousands of disposable face masks they use? Design a story board for a TV or online advertisement or a script for a radio advertisement or podcast that will encourage them to recycle their masks.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Media Studies, Visual Communication Design

2. Extension
Disposable masks are one example of an environmental problem caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you think of any others? Make a list of as many as you can think of. Next to each problem, write a possible solution.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Health and Physical Education, Science, Geography

VCOP ACTIVITY
Punctuation Thief
Pick a paragraph from the article, or about 3 sentences together if that’s easier, and rewrite it without the punctuation. At the bottom of the page write a list of all the punctuation you stole and in the order you stole it. For example; C , . C .

Then swap your book with another person and see if they can work out where the punctuation needs to go back to.

Extra Reading in environment