RMIT engineers find PPE waste makes stronger concrete

Karen Pham

Karen Pham

Rmit University

Disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) has been used to develop a method of making stronger concrete by engineers at Melbourne’s RMIT University who were seeking an innovative way of cutting down pandemic-generated waste.

The team discovered that shredded PPE has the potential to increase the strength of concrete by up to 22 per cent, along with improving crack resistance.

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have calculated 129 billion disposable face masks have been discarded around the world each month since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That figure alarmed Shannon Kilmartin-Lynch, first author and PhD researcher on the RMIT project, who set about looking for a circular economy approach to the problem of dealing with healthcare waste and reducing the volume headed to landfills.

“We urgently need smart solutions for the ever-growing pile of Covid-19 generated waste – this challenge will remain even after the pandemic is over,” said Kilmartin-Lynch.

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

There are three types of PPE that can be incorporated into concrete in various quantities: 

  • Rubber gloves increase 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.

For the next step, the research into turning PPE waste into stronger concrete will focus on three goals – evaluating the potential for mixing the PPE streams, developing practical implementation strategies and working towards field trials. Also, the team continues to seek collaboration with the healthcare and construction industries to advance the research.

Karen Pham

Karen Pham

Karen Pham is a marketing and branding enthusiast with a major in legal English. Based in Ho Chi Minh City, she is a contributor to Viable.Earth.