Get ready to ride on recycled plastic brick roads
Plastic isn’t so fantastic. In fact, it is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris throughout the ocean. Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year. To end this madness, Dutch construction firm VolkerWessels unveiled plans to create new brick roads made entirely from recycled plastic.
The need to transform
Innovation is sourced from the need to solve a problem. Our over dependence on plastic for packaging almost everything has accounted to this serious issue. According to Ocean Crusaders, 100,000 marine creatures perish every year from plastic entanglement. If you tie together the approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags used every year, they would circumnavigate the globe 4,200 times.
To understand the idea behind VolkerWessels innovation, you also need to understand the detrimental impact of concrete which is used to create our roads. The concrete industry is one of the two largest producers of CO2, creating up to 5 percent of the worldwide manmade emissions of this gas, of which 50 percent is from the chemical process and 50 percent from burning fuel. The CO2 produced for the manufacture of 1 ton of structural concrete (for example creating roads) is estimated at 410 kg/m3.
To deter these detrimental issues, VolkerWessels plans to use recycled plastic to build roads, which will solve the problem of plastic waste, along with the need for concrete roads.
The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands has teamed up with VolkerWessels to create prototype plastic brick roads. It’s a great concept, however, the plastic roads have a long journey ahead before we will see drivers using them. But there is hope. The Netherlands is heaven for recycling, as one of the few European countries to recycle more than half of its waste, according to the European Environment Agency.
The plan that VolkerWessels has cooked up, involves sourcing plastic waste from the sea and grinding it into a coarse aggregate. The resulting substance could then be melted and molded into road-form, with spaces through the middle to make way for pipes and electrical cables typically run under roadways.
The plastic roads would also need to be strong enough to support hundreds, if not thousands of cars a day, which raises the issue of structural integrity. Nonetheless, it’s still a very promising concept, and the VolkerWessels website claims that the plastic can withstand temperatures between -40oC and 80oC, and that the road is resistant to corrosion and weather damage. Furthermore, the company claims that the plastic bricks will be ideal for roads that stretch over structurally poor ground, such as swampy or sandy soil.
“Plastic offers all kinds of advantages compared to current road construction, both in laying the roads, and maintenance,” said Rolf Mars, Director of VolkerWessels’ roads subdivision, KWS Infra. As far as Mars is concerned, the project has huge potential for future development, such as heated roads or ultra-quiet surfaces. “As far as I know, we’re the first in the world to try this.”
According to IFL Science, the prefabricated roads would reportedly be made in a factory, transported to the installation site, and then slotted into place, hence the nickname “Lego Road”. Ideally, the concept would reduce construction time on roads which would hopefully reduce the amount of time for road blockades during road construction, which can cause traffic jams.
“It’s still an idea on paper at the moment,” Mars explains. “The next stage is to build it and test it in a laboratory to make sure it’s safe in wet and slippery conditions, and so on. We’re looking for partners who want to collaborate on a pilot, as well as manufacturers in the plastics industry – we’re thinking of the recycling sector, universities, and other knowledge institutions.”
The project is certainly ambitious, and it may be years before we find out if the pre-fabricated plastic is road-worthy and can realistically replace traditional tar and asphalt roads. The design is an interesting shift in building, as engineers are no longer only thinking about how to lay roads quickly, but also how to pull them up quickly if needed– which in the case of “Lego Roads”, would be a lot easier to do than it is now.
For all the doubt that surrounds this idea, if there’s anywhere in the world that such a project will succeed, it’s Rotterdam. The city is very innovative, and has embraced the concept wholeheartedly. It fits well within the city’s sustainability policy, and support has risen for a pilot project.
“We’re very positive towards the developments around the plastic road,” said Jaap Peters, from the Rotterdam City Council’s Engineering Bureau. “Rotterdam is a city that is open to experiments and innovative adaptions in practice. We have a ‘street lab’ available where innovations like this can be tested.”