Disposable face masks could be used in the construction of pavement bases and sub-bases if a new proposal is accepted.

Southern Municipal Council chairman Bader Al Tamimi, who is spearheading the move, revealed that around one million single-use masks are being dumped every day in Bahrain.

With proper treatment, the pandemic-generated waste could be put to better use rather than being dumped or incinerated.

The material most commonly used to make non-woven fabric masks is polypropylene – a type of fabric made from a “thermoplastic” polymer (meaning that it’s easy to work with and shape at high temperatures).

Blue masks can also be made of polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, or polyester – all of which are types of fabrics derived from thermoplastic polymers.

A study by the RMIT University in Australia found that using recycled face mask material to make just 1km of a two-lane road would use up about three million masks, preventing 93 tonnes of waste from going to landfill.

The new road-making material developed by the university researchers – a mix of shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble – met civil engineering safety standards.

Analysis shows that the face masks help to add stiffness and strength to the final product, designed to be used for base layers of roads and pavements.

The study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment was the first to investigate potential civil construction applications of disposable surgical face masks.

“For two years, the world has seen a huge surge in the use of medical equipment and items due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Mr Al Tamimi.

“But due to hygiene, health and hazard reasons the waste was either buried deep or incinerated.

“In other countries, waste is turned into energy, clothing, furniture or even artwork.”

He said he had found that in France face masks have been turned into items, while in the US they are being used for pavement bases and sub-bases,” said Mr Al Tamimi, who is also Hafeera area councillor.

Officials from the ministries of Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning, and Health have been summoned to next week’s session.

Meanwhile, Parliament services committee chairman and former council chairman Ahmed Al Ansari said the initiative was ambitious, but would take time to get implemented.

“Unfortunately, the procedures here in relation to general recycling are very slow and even though there are hundreds of special bins in malls, schools, buildings and across residential areas, no seems to care.”

Parliament public utilities and environment committee vice-chairman Ahmed Al Demistani said using shredded face masks could boost ductility, flexibility and strength of construction materials.

“Councillors have presented us studies showing that disposed face masks can be used for pavement base/sub-base applications.

“Imagine more than 1m masks disposed daily that could help build the country if treated and recycled properly; the government is already using dumped building equipment to level, pave and construct roads.”

Northern Municipal Council financial, administrative and legislative committee chairwoman Zaina Jassim said the idea needed expert study.

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