The Pacific Garbage Patch and landfills around the globe are overflowing with plastic waste, and you can circle the Earth at the equator at least four times with all the soda and water bottles thrown away every year. But if an experiment from a Netherlands-based company is successful, there could be a new use for all that plastic trash: road construction.
The company, VolkerWessels, is working with government officials in Rotterdam on PlasticRoad, a project it hopes will result in the construction of streets from the recycled material. “Plastic offers all kinds of advantages compared to current road construction,” Rolf Mars, director of VolkerWessels’ roads subdivision, told The Guardian.
So, Why Should You Care? Along with providing a non-landfill use for plastic trash, VolkerWessels’ idea is a greener alternative to streets made with asphalt. Asphalt roads create the notorious urban heat island effect—they absorb the sun’s heat and then radiate it back into the surrounding air. Globally, asphalt also generates 1.6 million tons of CO2 per year, or 2 percent of all emissions, reportedThe Guardian. According to VolkerWessels, those problems disappear when a road is constructed from recycled plastic.
The PlasticRoad can also withstand temperature extremes—well above 100 degrees and below zero—and is more resistant to corrosion than a road made with traditional materials. If you doubt the material can be that tough, remember that we’re lucky if a plastic water bottle breaks down in a landfill within 450 years.
As a result of the material’s durability, the company estimates that PlasticRoad surfaces will last three times as long as traditional thoroughfares. That could save plenty of resources and ease the road construction–related headaches of commuters. But if a section of a street does break down, because the modular pieces that make up a PlasticRoad will be premade in a factory, the damaged segment can be snapped out and quickly replaced with a new unit.
To skeptics, this might sound a bit like a Lego fantasy—and sure, it’s still at the concept stage—but officials in Rotterdam are enthusiastic about bringing the project to life. “We’re very positive toward the developments around PlasticRoad,” Jaap Peters, a representative of the Rotterdam city council’s engineering bureau, told The Guardian. “Rotterdam is a city that is open to experiments and innovative adaptations in practice. We have a ‘street lab’ available where innovations like this can be tested.” Yes, they have a street lab—this is the country that facilitated the creation of glow-in-the-dark smart highways.
VolkerWessels hopes to collaborate with academics and recyclers on the effort. If the company is successful, cars could be cruising on plastic roads as soon as 2018.