Earthmoving News, Environment & Research

RMIT University concrete innovation recycles PPE

Research at RMIT is recycling used gowns, face masks and gloves to make concrete stronger

Shannon Kilmartin-Lynch, PhD scholar and Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow at RMIT, has been working on an innovation to use disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) to make concrete stronger.

He has been investigating the feasibility of recycling three key types of healthcare waste – isolation gowns, face masks and rubber gloves – into concrete.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 54,000 tonnes of PPE waste has been produced on average globally each day. About 129 billion disposable face masks are used and discarded around the world every month.

“Everyone sees face masks and other PPE littering the streets,” Kilmartin-Lynch says.

“As engineers and researchers walking through the streets, we decided to sit down and think of a way to address this problem and that’s what inspired us to find this innovative way to reduce pandemic-generated waste by using it in civil engineering applications.

“Our research found that incorporating the right amount of shredded PPE could improve the strength and durability of concrete.”

In three separate feasibility studies, disposable face masks, rubber gloves and isolation gowns were first shredded then incorporated into concrete at various volumes, between 0.1 per cent and 0.25 per cent.

The research found:

  • rubber gloves increased compressive strength by up to 22 per cent
  • isolation gowns increased resistance to bending stress by up to 21 per cent, compressive strength by 15 per cent and elasticity by 12 per cent
  • face masks increased compressive strength by up to 17 per cent

The next step for the research is to evaluate the potential for mixing the PPE streams, develop practical implementation strategies and work towards field trials.

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