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Is Recycled Plastic Waste the Road Material of the Future?

plasticroadKWS, a subsidiary of Dutch infrastructure company VolkerWessels, along with processor Wavin and resin supplier Total have signed a cooperation agreement to develop roads made from recycled plastic waste, which the companies say is a sustainable alternative to traditional asphalt.

The PlasticRoad concept, introduced last year by KWS, involves recycling plastic into lightweight modules with hollow interiors that can be fitted with cables and plastic pipes and allow excess water to drain. The pre-fabricated units will be easy to transport, assemble and maintain, and the lighter weight means the ground will be less prone to subsidence, the company says.

Although it’s still in the concept phase, KWS says using recycling plastic to build roads has many benefits compared to using asphalt. These include reducing construction time by 70 percent, extending the lifespan of the road by a factor of three and creating an almost maintenance free road that is four times lighter than a traditional one.

When the road pieces reach their end of life, they can be recycled again, reducing waste sent to landfills and contributing to a circular economy.

PlasticRoad inventors Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma say they expect to have a first prototype completed by the end of 2017. Working with Wavin and Total will provide the experience and resources needed to make plastic roads a reality, they added.

Xavier Bontemps, senior vice president for Total’s Polymers Business Unit, said Total is “delighted” to contribute its expertise in plastics and recycling processes to the project. “This agreement is aligned with our commitment to using renewable and recycled sources and reducing the carbon footprint for the markets we serve,” Bontemps said in a statement.

The announcement comes as a growing number of manufacturers and sustainability consultants are turning their attention to plastic waste — and how to reduce it.

A paper published earlier this year by Trucost found that an industry-wide expansion of sustainable plastic initiatives could deliver $3.5 billion in environmental savings. It said circular economy approaches — like the PlasticRoad concept — can reduce the environmental cost of conventional, fossil fuel-based plastic.

For example, Dell’s OptiPlex 3030 computer is produced using recycled plastic recovered from electronic equipment from its own take-back program. Trucost’s environmental benefit analysis identifies environmental cost savings to society of $700 million per year if the entire computer manufacturing industry switched to closed-loop recycled plastic.

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