Plastic is our greatest enemy, talking environmentally. It cannot decompose naturally without spending decades or centuries, and even if it decomposes in the nature it will just release dangerous materials that will poison any living organism contaminated.
Weirdly, most of us still love to use plastic for many of our daily activities, such as for food container or simple things like groceries. Of course, our ignorance to continue consuming plastic would lead to enormous pile of plastic waste that we don’t know how to deal with.
Thankfully, we are more educated about the danger and more people are resisting plastic nowadays. In addition to that, with advancement of technology we are slowly finding our ways to deal with this problem. Can this solution become the best answer for our plastic problem?
Here in this article we are going to talk about a simple solution to solve our plastic problem: use it as asphalt substitute.
The Problem With Plastic
If you have read our previous articles talking about plastic waste, you should have known how bad is our current situation. But thanks to beautiful minds out there, we discover the solutions to our plastic consumption and plastic waste problem one by one.
So, what’s the deal? Mainly, disposal of plastic is the problem. We can create as much plastic as we want, but we cannot get rid of it easily once it is made. Time required to make it decompose naturally is the reason why.
As we said before, it can take decades or even centuries to let it biodegrade in nature. Even the simplest form of plastic, like plastic bottle, can take up to 450 years. And we all know that the whole world is consuming it.
Here comes the second problem with it, the amount of waste we produce. Australian researcher calculated that every single person on earth unwittingly consume about 250 grams of plastic each year. Multiply it with 7 billion people at least, and we have 1,750 thousand tons each year.
Well, if it is so hard to get rid of, why don’t we just burn it and let chemical reactions work? There is an answer for that, because burning plastic will cause environmental pollution that will not only produce carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), but also releases dangerous chemicals to the atmosphere.
The only good solution to our plastic problem is to recycle it. However, data stated that only 9% of plastic ever produced to ever be recycled. Not only because plastic recycling requires an advanced technology, but also because the kind of plastic that can be recycled is limited.
So, what can we do to solve this complex problem? Is there a way to make good use of any kind of plastic waste we produce? The answer might be to make it into material to make road. Blend plastic into asphalt, and we get plastic road and pavement.
“Utilizing plastic from single-use applications into applications that last multiple decades, in my opinion, is the greatest use of a recycled material,” said Sean Weaver, founder of TechniSoil Industrial. The Californian-based company is working on combining plastic into asphalt binder.
“It’s a pretty big deal to introduce a new type of pavement to a large agency like Caltrans, but I think the want is there from a sustainability standpoint and a performance standpoint,” he said. His company uses plastic with 20%-25% ratio to its binder.
Another company making use of plastic waste as materials to make road is MacRebur. This company has applied this method all over the world starting from United Kingdom, Australia, even Bahrain. “MacRebur plastic roads look exactly the same as regular asphalt and require no change in the installation process,” as stated in the website.
The Cons Of It
If we can easily solve our plastic problem by using it as materials to build some road, why don’t we already apply it worldwide? Apparently, the process is not that simple and for some reasons we might have to wait another decade before it can be applied worldwide.
The very first reason for it, is that it requires heating the plastic waste. Usually done after chopping the waste into small pieces, the heating process may cause some chemical reactions to it and in some cases, it will release the fumes we were talking about.
Not only that, applying heated plastic pieces into an infrastructure might also give a risk of leaching unreleased toxic compounds to the environment. Just like when we put sugar into hot water and let it dissolves, such kind of possibility exists.
It might appear bad, but bad thing is already happening even without incorporating plastic into asphalt. There are only two final destination for plastic waste nowadays, whether it goes to the ocean and harm the marine ecosystem, or in landfill and do just the same process as above.
Fortunately, we are closer and closer to the solution of this problem. One of the most practical method is to break down the plastic into polymer pellets like what MacRebur do. “It’s important that our plastics all fully homogenize into the mix. There are therefore no plastics present in the end asphalt – just a polymer modified bitumen,” said Toby McCartney, MacRebur’s CEO.
With the help of newest technology and innovation, it seems like we just have to wait for the right timing to solve our plastic problem. Even the problems we have to face in making plastic road are solving themselves slowly.
Now, what we have to do is just to tell the world about this good news. Not only because it can be a saving grace for the environment, but also because plastic road itself is much more beneficial to us compared to conventional asphalt.
Plastic road is more durable, having better resistance to water, requiring less maintenance like rutting and raveling, and more importantly cheaper. Even Padmashri Dr R Vasudevan, the patentee for plastic roads, said that plastic roads are guaranteed zero maintenance for seven years.
Another thing that would make plastic roads even more incredible is that it is recyclable. The gravel dug during road repairing can be used again to fix it, because naturally plastic has incredible durability. “To be able to recycle 100% of the road into a road that’s stronger than the original road has always been a holy grail of road construction. And we have achieved that,” said Sean Weaver.