In the heart of the Ghanaian Capital, Accra; drivers go about their daily commutes as they do in cities across the world. The difference here – rather than the likes of Los Angeles and Tokyo – is the use of plastic roads, made using plastic waste – shredded and melted bottles, bags and other bits of junk that you’d find in a landfill.
This project remains a solidified fragment of the Ghanaian government’s plan to recycle and reuse as much plastic waste as they produce in a year – around 1.1 million tons – by 2030.
India was the first country to initiate the plastic pollution combatant nearly two decades ago. Since then the world’s plastic problem has heightened enormously, leading other countries around the world to test and build plastic roads.
A growing number of studies suggest that plastic roads have the potential to perform as well or even better than traditional tarmac-paved roads. Not only do they last longer, they are stronger and have higher durability in terms of load-bearing. Roads containing plastic waste can withstand temperature developments and are more resistant to water damage, cracks and potholes.
Plastic roads have the potential to absorb hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic, almost in one night.
So why aren’t we seeing countries tear up their foundations, replacing traditional roads with plastic ones?
The process of creating plastic waste infused paving materials is likely to take time to evolve. Although widely used in India, countries throughout the world are only just getting to grips with this new technology.
In most countries, plastic roads have been in use for less than seven years. This means the data that tells us how plastic roads age is not there.
How do you develop a plastic road?
Organisations around the world adopt different approaches. But the general idea is that plastic waste is melted and mixed with other ingredients for developing road asphalt. Traditionally, asphalt contains 90-95 percent aggregate substance – gravel, sand or limestone – and 5-10 percent bitumen, which is the black tar substance taken from crude oil and is used as a binding for the materials.
When waste plastics are added, they are said to provide a stronger bonding agent than bitumen. This often replaces 4-10 percent of the bitumen.
Is it dangerous for the environment?
A major concern surrounding plastic roads is the process of burning plastic and creating further carbon emissions. However, it is only necessary to heat waste plastics at 170 degrees Celsius which is in a safe range.
As plastics are heated, they turn from a solid to a liquid and finally gas. The gases become harmful as they start to reach 270 degrees Celsius, therefore the process of creating plastic roads is considered to be environmentally friendly.
For more ideas worth sharing, head over to TEDx Doncaster. Until then, remember to recycle your plastic waste.