Scientists may have found a use for all of those old disposable face masks

All of those face masks that people wore during COVID-19 are piling up and presenting an environmental issue. But a group of scientists may have a solution: They're using single-use masks to make better concrete. Viv Williams has details in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."

Scientists use discarded single-use face masks to make better cement.
Duluth News Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

ROCHESTER, Minn. — How many disposable face masks have you gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic? Some have used hundreds, no doubt. A group of scientists say all of those masks can stay in the environment for decades because they're made of polypropylene or polyester fabric.

But there may be a solution: use the microfibers in the masks to make better, stronger and more durable concrete. Their study showed that mask materials made concrete 47% stronger than commonly used cement.

“These waste masks actually could be a valuable commodity if you process them properly,” says Dr. Xianming Shi, corresponding author on the paper. “I’m always looking out for waste streams, and my first reaction is ‘how do I turn that into something usable in concrete or asphalt?’”

Microfibers are sometimes already used in concrete to strengthen it. But they're expensive. Using the many masks people toss in the trash every day may help reduce costs and carbon emissions, because less cement would be needed in building projects.

The group wants to apply this technology to other fabrics, such as discarded clothing.


The paper is published in the journal Materials Letters.

Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

Your body adjusts to hot weather slowly. So when heat waves hit, you need to know how to hydrate and stay cool to avoid heat-related illness. This is especially true for babies and older adults. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams gets tips from an emergency medicine doctor about how to stay healthy in extreme heat.

What to read next
Experts warn that simply claiming the benefits may create paper trails for law enforcement officials in states criminalizing abortion. That will complicate life for the dozens of corporations promising to protect, or even expand, the abortion benefits for employees and their dependents.
Compared to 2019 and 2020 data, cases of chlamydia remained similar to past Northland data, while gonorrhea cases have continued to increase in the region.
In Minnesota, abortion is protected by the state’s constitution and is legal up to the point of viability, which is generally thought to begin at about 24 weeks, when the fetus can survive outside the womb. Those who work with Minnesotans who seek abortions say barriers, both legal and practical, forced some to travel to Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin even prior to the Supreme Court’s decision.
"Minding Our Elders" columnist says it's important to remember that we can't "fix" aging for our parents, but we can listen with empathy and validate their feelings.