PPE makes concrete stronger, new study shows

A new research by engineers at RMIT University has shown that using disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) it is possible to make concrete stronger – something that not only provides for stronger construction material but also helps address the issue of excessive pandemic-generated waste.

The team used three different types of PPE including isolation gowns, face masks and rubber gloves. The study is published in Construction Materials, Science of the Total Environment and Journal of Cleaner Production. As per the findings, shredded PPE could increase the strength of concrete by up to 22% and improve resistance to cracking.

According to some estimates a whopping 54,000 tonnes of PPE waste has been produced on average globally each day during the pandemic. About 129 billion disposable face masks are used and discarded around the world every month.

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% and 0.25%.

The research found:

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

Corresponding author and research team leader Professor Jie Li said PPE waste – both from health care and the general public – was having a significant impact on the environment.

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. The team is keen to collaborate with the healthcare and construction industries to further develop the research.

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