One city may soon pave its roads with bottles and other recycled plastics. The Dutch city of Rotterdam is considering the new type of road surface as a greener, more durable alternative to asphalt. Using recycled plastics in this way could prove to be a significant disruptive technology in the plastics industry.
In July 2015, construction firm VolkerWessels revealed its plans to create a road surface made entirely from recycled plastic. Known as the PlasticRoad project, the concept is to build a maintenance-free road surface that features lightweight design and short construction time. Because plastic is durable, these new roads can last three times as long as their asphalt counterparts.
The PlasticRoad project is still in its conceptual stage, but VolkerWessels hopes to lay the first fully recycled thoroughfare within three years. Jaap Peters, from Rotterdam’s engineering bureau, says the city already has a “street lab” available to test innovations such as PlasticRoad.
Benefits of Recycled Plastics for Road Construction Materials
Recycled plastic road construction materials are more sustainable than conventional roads. The new road material presents opportunities for improvements and innovations, such as quiet road surfaces, modular construction, heated roads and even power generation. Prefabrication can include molding techniques to create hollow spaces below street level to accommodate pipes, cables and rainwater. Manufacturers can also integrate other elements, such as connections for light poles, traffic loop sensors and measuring equipment, into the road structure.
Using recycled plastic, makers create the new surfacing material offsite and install prefabricated roads in one piece. Prefabrication production and lightweight design simplifies the construction of a plastic road and reduces on-site construction time. Preproduction allows for greater control over several aspects of road quality, including stiffness and water drainage. Lightweight materials also reduce transportation costs and increase efficiency.
Reduced on-site construction time makes construction of plastic roads much faster, taking weeks instead of months. Shorter construction time and reduced maintenance means less congestion on roadways.
Unaffected by weather and corrosion, roads made from recycled plastics are resistant to elements and wear. The PlasticRoad material proposed by VolkerWessels can withstand temperatures ranging from -40 degrees to 80 degrees Celsius and can also resist chemical corrosion.
Because they are made from plastic, these roads require little to no maintenance. This reduces road closures and eases traffic, detours and costs associated with construction.
Recycled plastics innovations such as PlasticRoad address a variety of environmental concerns, such as the landfills topping over with plastic, so-called plastic soup floating in seas, and CO2 emissions associated with asphalt. The roads are also lighter, reducing load on the ground.
The roads of Rotterdam may someday pave the way for innovative recycled plastics road surfacing materials that are sustainable, durable, environmentally friendly and prefabricated for maximum efficiency and convenience.