So far, 12 countries have built roads out of plastic instead of asphalt, helping both the global plastic pollution problem and climate change.
First appearing in India two decades ago, plastic roads are being tested and built in more and more countries as the world’s plastic pollution problem becomes more acutely felt. India has installed over 60,000 miles of these roads. The technology, meanwhile, is gaining ground in Britain, Europe, and Asia. Several countries — South Africa, Vietnam, Mexico, the Philippines, and the United States, among them — have built their first plastic roads only recently, reports Yale Environment 360.
Many studies have concluded that using plastic waste for our roads performs as well or possibly even better than traditional roads.
As Yale environment 360 journalist Ann Parson reports, they can last longer, are stronger and more durable in respect to loads and rutting, can tolerate wide temperature swings, and are more resistant to water damage, cracking, and potholes. The technology also has the potential to reclaim anywhere from a small to a sizeable amount of plastics from landfills and random dumping, researchers are finding, while providing a significant amount for road paving and repair. In a small nation like Ghana, where only 23 percent of roads are presently paved, waste plastic could go a long way.
This process is also a cheaper alternative than traditional asphalt, according to Global Citizen.
“Recycled plastic binders are ‘closing the loop’ by using plastic that had been used for something else and giving it new life, keeping the plastic out of our landfills and oceans. The recycled plastic product also has a lower embodied carbon footprint than traditional bitumen, preventing some greenhouse gases from being emitted and contributing to climate change,” says Sara McKinstry, UC San Diego campus sustainability manager.
In the past, there has been much criticism as to the possible spread of microplastics into the environment when using plastic waste to build roads. But U.K.-based company MacReber argues that this contamination wouldn’t happen with its roads and the amount of plastic it could conceivably convert to asphalt is staggering.