Recycling waste materials in highway construction
Chinese recycling processors imported 95% of plastics from the European Union and 70% from the United States for recycling.
China’s decision in 2017 to stop the importation of 24 types of solid waste, including plastics, increased the global load. People are dumping the ever-increasing plastic waste in landfills, and some find their way into water bodies.
The garbage interferes with the ecosystem and living organisms in these surroundings. Nature enthusiasts and other stakeholders want better ways to handle plastic waste to protect the planet.
Understanding the problem
People produce over 420 million tons of plastic waste every year and throw away about 75% of this waste.
Oceans take up about 13 million tons of garbage annually, harming over 700 marine animals. Consumers dump a significant portion of the remaining trash in landfills. The average human being consumes around 70,000 microplastics every year.
These pollutants are in the water people drink, the air people breathe, and the food people consume. Microplastic consumption’s health effects are unknown, but they may have contaminants, such as industrial plants’ chemicals and agricultural pesticides.
Consumers can help mitigate the plastic problem by being more eco-friendly in their everyday life like choosing reusable containers and bags. While consumers can help lessen the amount of plastic used, more is needed in addressing the plastics that are already out in landfills.
How roads from recycled plastics can help
Consumers can cut down on plastic pollution if more roads are made using recycled plastic.
The University of California’s students pioneered the first road made using recycled plastic waste by adding plastic waste pellets into the asphalt mix before it was mixed with the stone. The road covers a small area in front of their graduate housing complex. If the test case proves viable, the university plans to introduce the road everywhere on the campus.
MacRebur, a UK-based company, further refined the process into a more commercial offering. The company has paved trail roads in the United Kingdom and Australia. Plastic asphalt can have significant implications in our quest for plastic waste management.
Why innovation matters
The innovation comes at a crucial time, as over 4 million miles of road need repair in the United States.
Many Americans also know that plastic pollution is a challenge and are eager to protect our planet. Using plastic asphalt could help the country manage its ailing network of roads and mitigate plastic pollution.
Developing the road construction material begins by collecting the plastic waste and sorting them into various categories based on their polymer structures. They break the plastics in each category into three types of pellets, varying in flexibility and durability. Asphalt producers will buy the batch that suits their needs. For example, more durable pellets are appropriate for roads with heavy machinery traffic. The asphalt producers melt the pellets into bitumen – asphalt’s petroleum-based binding agent.
One can incorporate them into any asphalt infrastructure seamlessly. The final product has no plastic or microplastics, as the process melts the pellets and converts them into bitumen. MacRebur claims the amount of plastic can be converted into asphalt for road construction is sizeable. They assert that it is possible to get every 10 tons of asphalt from 435,592 plastic bags or 71,432 plastic bottles. People might not have created this waste if they opted for recycling at home.
Other ways to manage plastic waste
The plastic asphalt complements other plastic waste management efforts adopted in the United States.
These initiatives include computerized waste management and composting initiatives that are happening alongside recycling to convert garbage into high-quality resins, and more programs to support plastic waste management.
All these efforts are likely to help us manage plastic waste and protect our planet.