PACIFICA, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 3: Terri Brown, a volunteer with Pacific Beach Coalition, prepares to use a grabber tool to pick up a discarded surgical mask while picking up trash near Pacifica Esplanade Beach on April 3, 2021 in Pacifica, California. Concerns are growing over discarded COVID-19 related used personal protective equipment (PPE) that is littering streets and waterways since it contains microplastics that don't break down easily and could take hundreds of years to decompose. In September of 2020, the California Coastal Commission created a new category for masks and gloves for its coastal cleanups. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

You could make the assumption that in the past 18 months more disposable face masks have been used than ever before. Sure, we all had the fabric ones as well but those blue disposables were everywhere. On people, in stores, on the ground, and in the trash. What is going to happen to all those used masks? What if those used face masks could be turned into asphalt? Researchers at East Carolina University have been working on a productive use for them. Students and faculty in the Construction Management program at ECU have joined forces with the NCDOT. Their project? Using the plastic fibers from masks to help harden asphalt. Researchers shred the masks and add the material to 300-degree asphalt which melts the plastic into liquid form. Once cooled and hardened this can help prevent those pesky tire grooves seen on busy roads.

Turning those used face masks into asphalt gives the project two benefits- keeping masks out of landfills and the environment while also improving roads. What more could we ask for? The tests have been successful and they hope to implement large-scale tests in the coming year.

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