Plastic Roads and Their Feasibility
By: Muhammad Taha Ali | Polymeraland
First of all, it is important to understand what plastics are and their adverse effects on the environment. Plastic is a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers, that can be molded into shape while soft, and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. Plastics are also very durable and do not easily wear down. Due to these reasons, plastics are a sought-after material for many purposes ranging from packaging to toys to even textiles. As such, it is no doubt that since 1950 we have produced nearly 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic.
The fact that plastics do not decompose means that they cannot be discarded easily and stay intact for sometimes over 400 years. As such they accumulate in the earth’s environment and negatively affect humans, wildlife, and the environment. In fact, according to a study by National Geographic in 2018, out of 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced, 6.3 billion tonnes have been made into plastic waste. Coupled with this only 10% of all plastic waste produced has been recycled and 12% has been incinerated.
One way in which plastic waste is being recycled is for use in building and construction, one such example is the recent trend of plastic roads. Plastic roads are made entirely of plastic or composites of plastic with other materials. Plastic roads are different from standard roads in the respect that standard roads are made from asphalt concrete, which consists of mineral aggregates and asphalt. Most plastic roads sequester plastic waste within the asphalt as an aggregate. The idea of plastic roads had been first introduced and patented by Rajagopalan Vasudevan in 2006 and is under the name of the Thiagarajan College of Engineering in India. Since then, many countries have joined this race to a cleaner future. As such, the first plastic road in Pakistan was completed on the 6th of December 2021, in Islamabad – The Ataturk Avenue.
Now moving on to their pros and cons. Plastic roads are good for the environment as they use recycled plastic rather than asphalt which is to be extracted from crude oil. These roads are also very durable and wear-resistant which they inherit from their base material, plastic. Plastic roads are not limited to the traditional road-building styles and in 2015 VolkerWessels proposed a modular design that would have hollow space for wiring, connecting pipes, and even storing rainwater. The Modular design would also make repairs more efficient and less time-consuming.
However, it is not all good, these roads require a lot of plastic to be built which is very hard to collect and expensive to treat. The treating process includes several steps such as washing the plastic, shredding it to a uniform size, and then melting it at 165 °C. Melting takes a lot of energy which at the current stage is produced by burning fossil fuels, which are no better for the environment.
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