The road to the future may be paved in plastic. At least that’s what Dutch construction firm VolkerWessels hopes. They’re putting a call out to plastic manufacturers and business partners to join them in a group effort to create a road comprised of 100% recycled plastic. VolkerWessels formulated the concept after entering a plastic recycling initiative focused on eliminating plastic trash, debris, and waste from the world’s oceans. The project, called PlasticRoad, is set to begin trials in Rotterdam. But is the innovative merging of plastic recycling and waste disposal feasible?
A Novel Approach to Waste Disposal
With over 96 million tons of carbon dioxide leaked into the air annually through road maintenance and construction alone, a road that takes advantage of plastic recycling methods and eco-friendly waste disposal on a budget seems too good to be true. But VolkerWessels is quick to point out the additional benefits of using plastic recycling in refurbishing roads and infrastructure. Recycled plastics provide a lighter material which contributes significantly to easier labor. Plastic manufacturers will be working the collected plastic recycling material into prefab road segments which is expected to trim the production costs, efforts, and time. The prefab parts are intended to be laid onto a sand surface. Asphalt roads require months to be laid while PlasticRoad will require mere weeks.
The construction firm claims that roads comprised of plastic waste disposal materials are easier to maintain than their asphalt counterparts. PlasticRoad is also estimated to last 3 times longer than the average asphalt road.
Benefits Reach Beyond Plastic Recycling
While plastic recycling may have got the ball rolling on PlasticRoad, the architecture of the eco-focused road will also try to improve upon general road design. PlasticRoad’s hollow design grants easy access for cables just below the road’s plastic surface. Engineers intend these hollows to have the added purpose of draining rain water in an effort to maintain proper surface traction. PlasticRoad is also resilient with VolkerWessels claiming it can endure temperatures of -40°F to 176°F.
VolkerWessels offers a slew of other benefits in addition to plastic recycling, tax dollar conservation, and waste disposal including self-heating roads for safety in snow, safer and more efficient designs, initiatives to incorporate energy generation, and quieter, more peaceful transit.
Problems Posed by Plastic Roads
As is the case with any movement toward innovation, VolkerWessels’ plans to incorporate plastic recycling reform into a stronger infrastructure poses a lot of questions. The construction company alleges that the prefab structures are stronger and more resilient than asphalt, but eventually the prefab structures will need to be replaced. Can PlasticRoad itself be recycled? If VolkerWessels’ road isn’t resistant to plastic recycling will the structural integrity be compromised significantly by efforts to recycle the damaged road’s plastic material?
Using PlasticRoad as a plastic recycling method to deal with waste disposal may seem like a great idea, but will new plastics need to be manufactured to build roads or will the surplus of plastic waste suffice? Being a petroleum byproduct and manufactured from oil, new plastic is an expensive commodity to create. On the other hand, recycling plastic is more cost-effective than producing asphalt.
Even a feature as basic as working the plastic recycling matter into prefab segments may be met with opposition from unions who could take a financial hit from the decrease in necessary labor efforts and time.
Meanwhile, VolkerWessels continues forward with preparations in Rotterdam to determine PlasticRoad’s safety in the face of rainy conditions. As people strive for a greener way of living, we’re left to wonder whether following the PlasticRoad will lead us to a utopia of plastic recycling with its own “Emerald” City of sorts. Perhaps the road to a greener future is paved with plastic.