Paving the Way with Plastics
The city of Los Angeles has a waste problem. Prior to 2018, Los Angeles, like much of the US exported their waste to China where it was then processed. In 2018, China significantly reduced the amount of waste that they would process from the US and elsewhere as part of a far-reaching anti-pollution campaign. Since then, several recycling programs have folded across North America. With no outlet to sell their waste, California’s largest recycling operator, RePlanet, was forced to shut down earlier this year. According to Los Angeles Magazine, “today, most of L.A.’s recycled materials ultimately winds up in landfills.”
Landfills, of course, have a finite capacity and Los Angeles will have to develop a game plan of how to better manage their waste. One such solution is currently being explored by the Department of Street Services which would divert plastic waste to instead be used in road pavement. By the end of this year, a portion of First Street at Grand Avenue will become the first pilot location to test the feasibility of this solution. Technisoil, the company behind this innovative practice, has come up with a solution to transform plastic waste to an oil that acts as a binding material when mixed with road materials. This process is expected to cut production emissions, material costs as well as time. Rumour has it that this process can make roads car-ready in as little as 12 hours.
Previous tests have shown that streets made with plastic are 6-7 times stronger than those made with traditional asphalt. While traditional asphalt roads are highly susceptible to damage from various weather conditions, plastic roads can stretch and expand rather than cracking. Plastic roads also have a much higher melting point than that of ordinary roads (66C degrees vs. 50.2C degrees).
India has been building roads with plastic since 2002 and today there are nearly 34,000 kilometres of plastic roads across the country. According to The Guardian, urban areas in India with over 500,000 people are now required to construct roads using the plastic waste method. This practice was first developed by Dr. R Vasudevan, a chemistry professor and dean at the Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai. Dr. Vasudevan melted shredded plastic over hot gravel and added this mixture with asphalt in order to bond the tar and plastic together.
Back in Los Angeles, it’s believed that this pavement method could reduce upfront material costs in addition to lowering maintenance costs over time. However, when it comes to sustainability, suspicion still lingers. On the one hand, plastic roads would divert plastic waste, produce less emissions and last longer. Though on the other, environmentalists are still concerned about the possibility of plastics leaching into waterways and microbeads ending up in natural ecosystems. With so much plastic already existing in the world, finding new life for otherwise toxic waste is promising and it will certainly be interesting to see how this pilot goes.