A lot of the glass bottles that we send for recycling wind up crushed into sand and used for building motorways. Cumbria is hoping to become the first county in England to have roads paved with recycled plastic. The idea is not new – a similar project in India has been going for a few years. So far, the plastic Indian road surfaces are out-performing pure tarmac roads of a similar age.
Plastic and Bitumen
In the Indian model that the Cumbrian project intends to mimic, the recycled plastic replaces the bitumen in the standard asphalt mix. The hybrid substance is then worked onto the road in the usual fashion. The new surface is being trialled on the A6 this year and if successful will be rolled out on Cumbria’s network of roads. Other councils are keeping a keen eye on the project as they would like to reduce the carbon footprint of their roadbuilding schemes. Regular asphalt is claimed to be responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions.
The Next Generation of Plastic Roads
At the same time, a company in the Netherlands is getting a lot of internet attention for its proposed production of entire roads recycled from plastic bottles. In this model, sections of road are moulded from plastic then slotted into place like Scalextric tracks. The idea is that if a patch of road gets worn it can be removed and replaced.
Overcoming the Problem with Plastic Roads
One problem that needs to be addressed if we are all going to be driving on plastic roads in the future is how we can prevent wear and tear on the roads releasing plastic particulates. These micro-plastics would contribute to the pollution of our atmosphere and oceans. One way of addressing this would be to ensure that only a single type of plastic is used – reducing the amount of phase-separation and thus slowing the deterioration of the roads. In the Dutch model, replacing sections of road before they became worn out would be another way of reducing the production of particulates.
We know better than anybody that plastic is an incredibly versatile material. As a company, we have a very responsible attitude to recycling plastic. We recycle our own waste plastic and we take in waste plastic from our colleagues in the industry and recycle that as well.
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