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Eco-friendly roads made out of 100% recycled plastic

The future of town planning is meant to be more ecological. We will soon drive on synthetical roads, built with our own recycled plastic waste. In this way, the project of a Dutch company VolkerWessels, PlasticRoad, expects to give a second life to plastic waste that contaminate our oceans which also means the end of roads made with asphalt, that are created with products made from petroleum.

Goodbye to asphalt, now it is time to roads with recycled plastic waste

The project PlasticRoad suggests us to make a step into the future where our roads will be in plastic while being environmentally friendly. These 100% recycled plastic new roads are designed to be greener than our traditional roads in asphalt. There are various advantages with plastic roads.

The simple principle consists of picking up and transforming our non-biodegradable plastic waste. Waste are being incinerated and then mixed to create changing roads plates. Premade in factory waste, these roads plates or roads sections will be then transported to the construction site and assembled on site like a construction game.

So, the roads construction will be easier and quicker. A several months construction site might take several weeks and becomes possible on difficult or sandy roads. The transportation of roads plates to the construction site needs less fuel because plastic is lighter than asphalt. Roads made out of plastic will not put more pressure on the ground thanks to their lightness.

Synthetical roads are stronger. They can resist to higher temperatures (between -40° and -80°C) and do not fall into disrepair easily: they can better resist to weather-related hazards and deterioration caused by the weight of cars. There will be likely no potholes on these roads.

They will be also longer-lasting compared to asphalt roads: they can last up to three times longer. Roads maintenance will be easy, quick and rare: we just need to change the damaging roads plates.

Moreover, these roads will bring out other innovations: silent roads, with solar energy or that produce energy. Plastic roads have a deep structure which allows laying electrical cables – in order to help public lightning-, optical fibres, pipes for evacuating rain water and used waters and other sorts of urban sensors.

Environment- friendly roads

This seems contradictory but plastic roads are not only a good alternative for urban planning but also for our planet.

Their ambition is to help preserve the environment and prevent global warming. As a result, plastic roads enhance the use of existing plastic materials, whereas to build and repair classical roads with asphalt, traditional roads increase the emission of greenhouse gas from the petroleum industry.

Plastic roads resolve a problem linked to plastic waste management and treatment that take centuries to break down, pile up our landfills or pollute our oceans. The new use of plastic will help reducing considerably the mass of waste.

Furthemore,the project PlasticRoad participates in cleaning oceans by tackling the problem famously known as the seventh continent of plastic, this huge spread of garbage floating on our oceans. Actually, the aim of the company VolkerWessels is to build roads with plastic waste fishing out the ocean thanks to boats specialised in collecting waste.

Drivers will also be happy: plastic roads are by nature permeable and offer less road-holding which will reduce the petrol consumption.

Plastic roads in the Netherlands, India and Malia

A beautiful revolution relies on the project PlasticRoad. However, there is a need to pass resistance tests to heavy vehicles and road-holding tests especially in bad weather so that it will not have any impact on the drivers safety. In the Netherlands, the city of Rotterdam will be observed closely from other interested cities as it is the first one to start this project.

The construction price, around 3% higher than the asphalt roads, is a little discouraging. Nevertheless, this price allows other long term benefits: the maintenance cost is reduced as well as the ecological footprint. This new innovation might appear in other countries around the world if the project keeps its promises.

The recycling of plastic waste into roads is a simple idea but not a new one. In India and in Africa, we have seen new plastic roads projects. In these countries, plastic is used as a cheaper and more ecological alternative than the bitumen.

An Indian engineering and chemist nicknamed “Plastic Man”, Rajagopalan Vasudevan, invented polymer-modified asphalt which means a mixture of asphalt and melted plastic materials as bottles, packages or bags. These roads surface contains 10% of recycled plastic. A synthetical road will be less damaged, compared to a classical road, at the end of 8 years.

In fact, the worth of using plastic for repairing or building roads create stronger roads and protect roads from damage and monsoons, seasonal rains in Asia. Plastic is indeed acting like a glue as it makes the asphalt more elastic. It does prevent the penetration of water.

 

In the city of Jamshedpur in India, a company Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company, has built about fifty kilometers of roads made out of recycled plastic. Waste are collecting in the city, breaking into tiny pieces and mixed with the asphalt. In the long term, the roads of this city will have between 20% and 30% of plastic and will benefit for the locals and the environment: a decrease of town pollution and atmospheric pollution.

African countries, like in Mali, which are unfortunately surrounded by plastic bags, have understood the potential of plastic roads. In Malia, the government has implemented a recycling policy where the inhabitants have been encouraged to pick up plastic waste while receiving a salary.

Then, waste are burnt and mixed with sand to create a very strong material, similar to bitumen. This initiative has a positive impact on the society: the poorer social classes participate in this project and they are also the most vulnerable regarding pollution.

Is it a long-term risk for the environment?

The era of plastic roads might start in the near future. However, there are not so well accepted by everybody. There have been a lot of worries concerning their potential risks in the long-term for the environment. They indeed last longer but they are not eternal. We criticised them not to eradicate the problem of plastic waste but just to shift and delay it.

Plastic can break down into tiny particles by erosion instead of disappearing. We know this problem but we do not always manage it. It does jeopardize biodiversity and our health: the tiny particles could be found in living organisms.

How will they exactly damage our roads through the course of time while suffering from the passage of cars and weather conditions? What would be the consequences for the environment of the tiny particle being released in the air and dragged by the rainwater? These are essential questions that need answers before even starting changing our road network.

The environment is at stake.

Floriane Boyer, EVI editor.