Even though asphalt poses significant environmental and health hazards, almost all roads in the United States are surfaced with this material. A Dutch construction firm recently announced the concept of using recycled plastic to construct roads as an environmentally and economically alternative to asphalt.
According to the National Asphalt Paving Association, asphalt covers 93 percent of the 2.6 million miles of streets and roads in the United States. While considered the most economical option for road surfacing in terms of upfront costs, asphalt poses a number of health and environmental issues. For example, the Centers for Disease Control cites research linking occupational exposure to asphalt with increased incidents of cancer and respiratory illnesses. In addition, studies demonstrate that asphalt leaches polyaromatic compounds and heavy metals into storm water, which endangers not only plants and wildlife but also human heath. Research also finds that asphalt pavement contributes to urban heat island effects. What is a possible alternative road surfacing material that does not pose as many risks as asphalt?
Dutch Construction Firm Proposes Recycled Plastic as an Alternative to Asphalt
In a recent interview with The Guardian, Rolf Mars, the director of the roads division of the Dutch engineering and construction firm, VolkerWessels announced that Rotterdam is likely to be the proving ground for their innovative PlasticRoads project. While still in the conceptual phase, Mars proposes that using recycled plastic to manufacture road panels as an alternative to asphalt paving. What are the anticipated benefits of PlasticRoads?
The Possible Benefits of Plastic Roadways
According to Mars, some of the advantages of using recycled plastic instead of asphalt include:
- Prefabrication Decreases Road Construction Time: Since road panels made from recycled panels are lightweight, they can be manufactured off-site and then transported to road construction sites. The VolkerWessel team predicts that the installation PlasticRoads will take a matter of weeks instead of the months required constructing asphalt paved roadways.
- Hollow Design May Eliminate the Need for Excavation Work: The road panel design includes a hollow space to allow for utility infrastructure and efficient stormwater
- Reduced Maintenance and Replacement Costs: Unlike asphalt, the recycled plastic material is resistant to corrosion and extreme temperatures. According to VolkerWessel, PlasticRoads will have three times the lifespan as asphalt paved streets and roads.
- Provides Foundation for Other Innovations: The use of recycled plastic for road surfaces opens the door to other cost-saving innovations. For example, heated roadways have the potential to eliminate the $2.3 billion annual expense of removing snow and ice from our roadways. PlasticRoads also have the potential to serve as the foundation for Solar Roadways to turn the nation’s streets and highways into power generators.
- Improves Livability in Urban Areas: In addition to eliminating the contribution of asphalt to heat island effects, PlasticRoads provide a quieter driving surface thus reducing noise pollution.
Once the VolkerWessel team conducts safety tests demonstrating the safety of recycled plastic road surfaces, city engineers are ready to collaborate with them to install PlasticRoads in Rotterdam.
What do you think about the PlasticRoad concept? Are they likely to be a viable option in the United States?