Future roads could be made from recycled plastic waste

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VolkerWessels’ KWS, an infrastructure company based in the Netherlands, has signed a cooperation agreement with Total, a resin supplier, and with plastic waste recycler and processor Wavin to work on developing roads made from the products of plastic waste recycling.

The firms involved claim that the use of recycled plastic waste offers a sustainable alternative to the traditional tarmac and asphalt. Named the PlasticRoad Concept, KWS took a leading role in initiating the project which calls for fabricating recycled plastic into small road-surface modules containing empty interior spaces through which cables and pipes can be run.

Multiple benefits

The pre-fabricated and modular nature of the concept means that construction will be greatly simplified, allowing for units that are easy to transport, build and maintain. The units will contain special channels to allow excess water to drain away naturally. In addition, the lighter weight of the plastic, at a quarter of that of asphalt roads, minimises the likelihood of ground subsidence, according to KWS.

It’s important to note that the project remains in the concept phase, but KWS and its partner firms are keen to point out the many benefits of using plastic regrinds over asphalt for road construction. The companies claim that recycled plastic roads enjoy a service life three times longer than that of traditional roads and require minimal, if any, maintenance.

Thanks to pre-fabrication, construction time on-site is also reduced by over two thirds. Sustainability criteria receive a boost thanks to the fact that individual pieces of road can simply be recycled again upon reaching the end of their service lives. This helps to develop the closed-loop circular economy and reduces the environmental impact of road-building by cutting down on the amount of waste destined for landfill.

Innovation in progress

KWS’ project leaders for the PlasticRoad, Simon Jorritsma and Anne Koudstal, anticipate the completion of the first working prototype by the end of 2017. Cooperation with plastic waste recycling firms Total and Wavin will provide the necessary resources and practical experience in order to push the PlasticRoad project from concept to feasible reality.

Xavier Bontemps, senior VP for the Polymers Business Unit at Total, indicated that the firm was thrilled to be contributing its knowledge of plastic recycling processes to the PlasticRoads project. The cooperation agreement is in line with Total’s commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of the wider market by increasing usage of recycled and renewable resources, in the words of VP Bontemps.

The circular economy

The announcement from KWS arrives as an increasing number of sustainability consultants and manufacturers alike turn their attention towards the problem of plastic waste. Reducing the quantity of plastic compounds headed for landfills can help companies to minimise both expenditure and their impact on the environment.

A study published in early 2016 examined the potential environmental and cost savings to the manufacturing sector that could be brought about by an industry-wide implementation of sustainable plastics disposal and recycling programmes. The study found that approaches based around closed-loop recycling, such as the PlasticRoad idea, could create $3.5 billion of savings whilst simultaneously cutting the environmental costs of non-sustainable fossil fuel-based plastics.

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