This Company is Building Roads with Recycled Plastic

These roads will last longer, are cheaper to build and maintain, and they reduce the amount of plastic going into oceans and landfills.

Apr 10, 2019

You wouldn't expect a chemical company that makes plastic to practice sustainability, but Dow Chemicals is doing something very green with a new imitative to use plastic waste out of landfills to build roads.

For around two years, Dow, headquartered in Midland, Michigan has been using post-consumer plastic (PCR) garbage that was thrown away to create new polymer modified asphalt roads at its Freeport, Texas location. The private roads – Plastics Road and Gulfstream Road – are open to traffic and functioning like any conventional road.

The roads used 1,686 pounds of recycled linear low-density density polyethylene (LLDPE) plastic or about the weight of 120,000 plastic grocery bags in the construction process according to a Dow press release. It covered a combined length of around 2,600 feet, saved money on the PMA material cost, and it met performance grade requirements for asphalt.

We’re excited about the technological implications of this project, and it’s worth mentioning that PCR helped to reduce the material cost of PMA in road construction,” said Jennifer Li, global construction sustainability leader and ICT infrastructure & construction marketing manager at Dow in the press release. “For many, a circular economy can seem unrealistic. It becomes far more realistic when they see how sustainability efforts can be supported by improved performance and cost savings.”

Dow collaborated with Martin Asphalt, American Materials, and Vernor Material & Equipment to build the roads and the company will now monitor the results to improve materials so roads can be built for a variety of climates and conditions. Dow is also testing the next generation of plastic polymers to use on the parking lots of the company's parking lots in Midland.

“Our global sustainability team is dedicated to identifying new construction end-use projects with our value chain collaborators,” said Li in the press release. “Imagine the impact if one day recycled plastic or used packaging (that isn’t recycled today) could be used to improve several high-performance roads and parking lots across an entire city, highway system or corporate campus.”

Before this new US pilot, Dow began to improve roads two years ago with recycled plastic in Debook, Indonesia to help Indonesia (the second largest contributor to marine plastic pollution) reach its goal of reducing plastic waste in the ocean by 70 percent by 2025. Indonesia is trying many approaches to reduce plastic waste including paying for busses with plastic.

The next trial was conducted in India where it worked with KK Plastic waste and two local governments to improve roads with plastic in Pune and Bangalore. And, Dow recently began a collaboration to improve roads in Thailand, a county which is also a large contributor to plastic ocean pollution. All of these projects combined diverted an impressive 22,000 pounds of plastic waste from going into landfills or oceans.

According to a report from Business Insider, Dow said that the roads improved in these pilot programs are more resistant to erosion from weather and vehicle use, and the number of new potholes formed is reduced. Something that American roads could badly use. Unfortunately, road materials are heavily regulated in the US so laws would have to be changed before Dow can test the material on public roads.

Other companies are also working on using recycled plastic in roads including VolkerWessel in the Netherlands which is working to salvage plastic pollution from the ocean to use to build highways in Rotterdam. The company's research suggests that these roads will last 50 years or three times longer than conventional roads and can survive extremely hot or cold temperatures for all climate use.

In the  UK, MacRebur a plastic road company opened a factory dedicated to converting plastic waste into an asphalt mixture that can be used for roads, parking lots and driveways, according to Business Insider. The company has already built plastic roads in Australia, New Zealand, Slovakia, Turkey, Bahrain, and the US.

Melting down old plastic waste to repurpose it into useful new items is one of the ways we will reduce the plastic in the oceans and landfills. Dow Chemical is just one of the companies working on possible solutions. They seem to be on the right path.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.