The vast majority of paved roads in the Western world, well over 80% as a matter of fact are made out of asphalt. The choice to select this particular road construction material was made long ago, certainly long before we started getting concerned about the footprint of our large-scale manufacturing. Therefore, it could not have been the best one for the environment by vastly reducing the amounts of generated rubbish.
Asphalt takes a while to manufacture although processes have improved dramatically in recent decades. In addition, the carbon output as a direct result of manufacturing asphalt is something worth considering especially when we account for global production. New road networks are being done every year, older roads and highways reconstructed and upgraded and potholes continuously filled up with thousands of billions of tons per year.
A pilot project started out by Dutch company VolkerWessels is aiming to bring about a whole new method of creating roads using recycled plastic as the primary ingredient. In the current state of affairs, VolkerWessels is on the look-out for partners with the help of whom to create the first prototype and begin intensive testing. It is known that the city or Rotterdam has expressed interest in participating in the project.
The benefits of having plastic roads as opposed to the traditional asphalt ones are numerous. One the one hand, we can point out the aforementioned cut in manufacturing time. However, that is merely scratching off the surface of plastic roads advantages. Another already mentioned benefit is the reduction in overall carbon footprint. This is an essential and slightly tricky one at the same time.
Manufacturing of plastic itself involves fossil fuels and leaves a considerable carbon footprint. It is easy to speculate that going down this road for too long would render the Earth a mere barren wasteland. Reusing old (and already made) plastic and incorporating it into the creation of roads and greatly decrease annual carbon footprint simply because making roads would not require making new plastic. It is as simple as that.
Installation time will be reduced significantly as well. The roads, instead of made on spot, will be delivered into large panels and installed directly onto the surface. The company claims this will reduce road-making from months to mere weeks. That in itself brings additional perks such as reducing road anger and frustration from having to wait for road maintenance or having to take a detour. We can further speculate that in the long run, we can observe a decrease in road accidents due to smaller number of frustrating moments while driving.
The list of benefits goes on and on.
The road structure will be multi-layered allowing for space in between the panels of plastic. This means that infrastructure can benefit in variety of ways without major roadworks needed every time a new set of cables need to be installed. Phone lines, optic Internet cables, water and heating pipes, you name it. It can all be fitted inside the hollow space between the panels of glass. There is even an idea of having internal heating installed just to negate the effect of snow and ice during the cold months. That in turn, will annihilate the need for road clearance which is traditionally provided by vehicles that need to spread sand and chemicals to speed up dissolving snow.
All in all, the idea for having recycled plastic roads is thoroughly exciting we certainly hope to see it come true. Concerns over endurance are also easily dismissed over claims of the company that plastic roads will be much more durable, will resist temperature changes better and will take up to three times more to require replacement. Not a bad set of features all things considered.