RMIT recycles PPE to make stronger concrete

Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Fellow at RMIT and co-researcher Shannon Kilmartin-Lynch with the team’s concrete that was made using PPE. (Credit: RMIT University)

Following feasibility studies, Engineers at RMIT University have developed an innovative method to use disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) to make concrete stronger.

The research to investigate the feasibility of recycling three key types of PPE – isolation gowns, face masks and rubber gloves – into concrete comes after an increase in PPE waste during the pandemic.

Published in the journals Case Studies in Construction MaterialsScience of the Total Environment and Journal of Cleaner Production, the studies by RMIT School of Engineering researchers demonstrate the potential for PPE to be used as reinforcement materials in structural concrete.

The studies found shredded PPE could increase the strength of concrete by up to 22% and improve resistance to cracking.

The RMIT School of Engineering team’s industry partner, Casafico Pty Ltd, is planning to use these research findings in a field project.

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.

First author, PhD researcher Shannon Kilmartin-Lynch, said the research brought a circular economy approach to the challenge of dealing with healthcare waste.

“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, a Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Fellow at RMIT.

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

Joint lead author, Dr Rajeev Roychand, said there was real potential for construction industries around the world to play a significant role in transforming this waste into a valuable resource.

“While our research is in the early stages, these promising initial findings are an important step towards the development of effective recycling systems to keep disposable PPE waste out of landfill,” he said.

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