Earlier this decade, India set off an environmental revolution when it paved 620 miles of road with asphalt made in part from 1,600 tons of plastic waste — much of it, ironically, those ubiquitous plastic bags that dot the roadsides of most highways.

Now commerce has moved in where environmentalists first tread. A number of companies have popped up on the scene with new forms of asphalt that use recycled plastic as a binder, making them cheaper and potentially more durable. At the same time, they find a new use for plastic that’s often destined to sit in landfills or be leached into oceans.

Asphalt is crushed stone or sand that is glued together with a thick viscous black substance known as bitumen, which was originally derived from petroleum but can now be made synthetically. But the bitumen needs to be tempered with polymers to keep it durable and flexible. That’s where the recycled plastic comes in. Polymers from recycled plastics can help make the asphalt much stronger and longer lasting.

A company called TechniSoil has created a method that recycles existing roads and re-paves them with asphalt fortified with recycled plastic. The company claims the roads will last much longer and take care of mounds of plastic trash — in this case, empty water bottles. 

The process is not without concerns. Some fear plastic residue may leach off the roads, and processing the plastic waste produces waste of its own. More research is needed to determine if the roads are the environmental asset they appear to be on the surface. But, if it tests out, the technology could have a huge impact on roads in America and around the world.

(Some video imagery courtesy of TechniSoil.)

Published on Nov 18, 2019