Innovation That Matters

Researchers at RMIT have tested the possibility of strengthening concrete with PPE | Photo source RMIT University

Strengthening concrete with used PPE

Health & Wellbeing

Researchers have discovered that shredded PPE waste can be added to concrete to increase strength and resistance to cracking

Spotted:  According to a recent study, the COVID-19 pandemic generated 1.4 million tonnes of pandemic-associated plastic waste as of August 23, 2021. Given the staggering amount of waste being produced, it is important to find ways to sustainably transform this waste into a valuable resource. With this in mind, engineers at RMIT University in Australia have developed a method to do just that.  

The researchers found that adding personal protective equipment (PPE) waste to concrete, can increase the material’s strength by up to 22 per cent while improving resistance to cracking. The engineers believe that this method could be used to reduce the amount of plastic waste in landfills and help improve the durability of concrete structures. The authors said the aim is to bring a circular economy approach to the challenge of dealing with healthcare-generated waste.

The PPE was first shredded, then incorporated into concrete at various volumes. The researchers found that isolation gowns increased resistance to bending by 21 per cent and elasticity by 12 per cent. As for compressive strength, rubber gloves were in the lead at 22 per cent, compared to isolation gowns (15 per cent) and face masks (17 per cent).

“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,” said joint lead author Dr Rajeev Roychand in a press release.  

Next up the team will evaluate the potential for mixing the PPE streams, trial the results in the field, and explore collaborations with healthcare and construction companies.

As medical waste emerges as a growing problem, Springwise has spotted a number of innovations aiming to help. Among these is New Zealand-based startup Medsalv, a social enterprise remanufacturing single-use medical devices, and a portable toilet made out of plastic medical waste.

Written By: Katrina Lane



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