Written by: RWFM
Last updated on: 19 Nov 2019
It’s estimated that we use five million tonnes of plastic every year in the UK, half of which comes from product packaging. That’s 2.5 million tonnes of waste plastic produced. While the country’s recycling is improving, the majority of plastics end up in our land and waters.
With a staggering amount of plastic damaging our ecosystem, we must recycle and reuse these materials. This will reduce demand for new plastics that use fossil fuels to form their chemical structure.
Common types of plastic
Plastic bottles used for convenience drinks are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This plastic is recyclable and used to create more plastic bottles. Plastic shopping bags are made from polyethylene and recycled to create other materials.
One mistake consumers often make is recycling crystallised polyethylene terephthalate (CPET). These polymers are used to make black plastic packaging. This plastic shouldn’t be recycled as it can’t be detected by waste sorting machines. This plastic ends up in landfill or incineration.
Reuse plastics to build roads
One solution growing in popularity is turning our disposed plastics into roads. Traditional roads are made from asphalt; a combination of rocks, stone and sand bound by a liquid petroleum called bitumen. Bitumen is made from oil; a fossil fuel sold by major corporations like Shell.
Potholes are a large problem with the UK’s roads. Potholes are formed by the contraction and expansion of water into the road’s cracks. The asphalt breaks down leading to large holes in the road’s surface, causing damage to our vehicles.
How plastic roads are made
The process of turning plastic into material suitable for use on our roads seems complicated but is rather simple. Household and commercial plastic waste destined for landfill is bought and shipped to specialised waste sorting facilities. The plastic is sorted for suitability and cleaned before being transformed into tiny pellets.
The plastic pellets replace the majority of bitumen as a sustainable form of adhesive. The pellets are mixed with the rock and bitumen blend and sent to organisations that build and maintain roads. The mixture is used as normal; it is heated, moulded and compacted into the roadbed.
How it benefits the environment
Plastic roads have received some criticism. This is due to the potential risk of spreading microplastics into the environment. Microplastics can contaminate our air, food and water.
While this process is new, the advantages and disadvantages are not fully known. Manufacturers state that as the plastic is destined for landfill, it costs much less than buying crude oil which is subject to varying rates.
As plastic takes years to decompose, it’s proposed that the roads are less likely to damage after prolonged use and harsh weather. Organisations like MacRebur are leading the way in this field. The company was inspired by a common practice in India where plastic waste is poured into potholes and melted to fill the space. UK councils including Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria and Enfield are trialling plastic roads in their areas using local waste.
Without finding ways to recycle and reuse our waste, plastic will continue to damage our environment for hundreds of years. Plastic roads are one of the intelligent solutions helping to reduce our plastic waste crisis.
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