Friday, June 1, 2018

Plastic For The Roads of America's Future?

15832_ext 02The "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" is really more a steady, circulated, mass stream of garbage in the Pacific Ocean. Despite more and more awareness of its existence, there doesn't seem to be much action planned to address the environmental catastrophe. That said, some companies bringing sustainability into their models are viewing plastic, not as a moral imperative, but a valuable resource to rebuild one of the most important aspects of infrastructure: roads.

In 2015, Dutch construction company, VolkerWessel  began plans with Rotterdam city officials to replace current paved roads with attachable, Lego-like plastic modules, all made from recycled materials. The project, in its final testing stages before being introduced to public use, is impressive, but only the latest in many similar efforts to incorporate reusable plastic into road materials all around the world. Tami Nadu, in Southern India, is a region light years ahead of VolkerWessel, having already paved hundreds of miles worth of roads with plastic. And in Ghana, the company Nelplast has received assistance from the Ghana Environmental Ministry to develop and distribute asphalt mixed with plastic and sand to local districts.

Image result for texas hossein plastic pins roads
Texas DOT plans to test Hossein's use of
plastic pins for slope stabilization.
In the United States, while this innovation isn't near being brought to life as these worldwide efforts, plastic roads has its proponents, as well as the companies who could make such an undertaking happen. Dr. Sahadat Hossein, a civil engineer at the University of Texas, Arlington, received a million dollar grant a few years ago from the Texas Department of Transportation for developing plastic road pins out of recycled beverage bottles. Dr. Hossein successfully showed that pins consisting of about 500 plastic bottles in material, could be inserted into Texas roads, delaying them from cracking and falling apart as weather erodes the underlying soil. The project is already in controlled-site testing, and there are already Texas-based companies like Dykes Paving, which have a long history of paving roads with sustainable, environmental-friendly methods and resources.

While the construction process for plastic roads is far from ideal, the opportunity to create a sustainable and profitable supply chain is clearly there. Entrepreneurial interest in cleaning up the oceans abound, and the maintenance benefits of plastic as raw material for roads far outweigh the current costs of asphalt. For a look at VolkerWessel's PlasticRoads video pitch, click below:

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