The US generates about 234lb of plastic waste per person in a year, a majority of which would typically end up on a landfill larger than Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The environmental impact of this could be significant and can even be a causal factor behind the loss of marine life, not to mention the obvious impact of global warming. Thankfully, engineers have come up with a novel way to use up much of the waste and make what is possibly the most used human creation — roads. As per the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) report, the United States has just overseen the paving of the country's first mile of recycled plastic highway on a state road anywhere in the country. TechniSoil, a sustainable landscaping company has partnered with state transport department officials to repave a one-mile stretch of a three-lane road in July and used more than 150,000 single-use plastic bottles to help them in the process.
The material is already in use throughout the state with the road laying formula said to be two to three times more resilient and durable to that of asphalt pavements. That's not the only advantage, according to TechniSoil, as they reveal this new mix generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional method currently employed by Caltrans. In normal circumstances, the transit department repaves state highways by removing up the topmost 3 to six inches of asphalt which is then ground and mixed with bitumen - a binding agent generated in oil refineries. As the sludge-like substance can only be used as a base, the department still requires over 42 truckloads of hot asphalt to finish up the road. The new procedure replaces the bitumen with a polymer-based binding agent made using melted plastic bottles, which means TechniSoil's latest invention removes the need for importing asphalt while ensuring that the road is made using 100 percent recycled plastic in a liquid polymer.
The historic pilot project took place in Butte County and TechniSoil's representatives even spoke to Fast Company to reveal details of additional road projects underway in other areas of California. Amarjeet S Benipal, Caltrans District 3 Director, said: "We’re excited about introducing a new sustainable technology and helping pave the way for utilization of recycled plastics throughout the state. This process is better for the environment because it keeps plastic bottles out of landfills and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels." Meanwhile, Sean Weaver, president of TechniSoil, spoke of his company's game-changing product and said: "Traditional asphalt roads rely on rock for the strength of the road. With our pavement, it relies on the matrix of a plastic binder for the strength, and the rock is simply a filler."
The new type of road is said to be resistant to potholes and cracking and can last two to three times longer than standard asphalt, Weaver confirmed. Speaking on the environmental impact of the process, he continued: "The advantage with recycling in place is that we avoid all of the truck traffic in and out of the construction zone. That eliminates the emissions from those trips and makes it faster to complete the job. We can do this work very seamlessly at night." The project saw over 1000 yards of road being relaid. Speaking earlier about the completion of the project and upcoming projects, Weaver had said: "We finished the first piece yesterday. And we already have a call slated for Monday to look at project number two and project number three. They are going at hyperspeed on this. California has some ambitious goals for recycling and environmental priorities."