Each year, over 420 million tons of plastic are produced globally, a whopping three-quarters of which is tossed. As we know by now, there is no “away” when it comes to throwing things away. Instead, plastic trash ends up polluting land and water ecosystems around the world. The oceans take in around 13 million tons of plastic annually, which harms marine animals.
Using plastic to make new type of asphalt for roads is one way that some countries, companies and individuals are working to curb the plastic pollution problem. The lower carbon footprint of the recycled plastic product compared to traditional asphalt translates to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Polymerized asphalts are more stable in extreme heat than conventional roads. Modified asphalts are versatile, and since plastic roads are a relatively new idea, construction processes vary. Plastic roads have been used to create more durable, high-traffic truck roads, for noise reduction and, in cold climates, to prevent roads from cracking after a harsh winter. The University of California at San Diego recently approved a road made with recycled plastic waste.
In India and Indonesia, roads are created from a mix of plastic and asphalt. According to a performance report by India’s Central Pollution Control Board, “the plastic tar roads have not developed any potholes, rutting, raveling or edge flaw, even though these roads are more than four years of age”.
There are currently over 21,000 miles of plastic road in India, roughly half of which are located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Most are rural roads, but a few have also been built in large cities such as Chennai and Mumbai.
The UK is now using a plastic road technology developed by an asphalt enhancement company based in Scotland whose process uses 3-10 kg of waste plastic per ton of asphalt.
The intention of plastic roads is three-fold:
* to use the millions of tons of plastic waste sitting in landfills;
* to reduce the amount of government funds going toward new road construction, maintenance and repair; and
* to make roads that are more durable and longer-lasting.