Plastic is all around us so much so, unfortunately, that it has become a real problem with plastics of all kinds piling up in landfills and even polluting waterways and the land. Compounding the problem is that some deal with plastics by burning discarded plastic along with all landfill waste, meaning the burning plastic is releasing greenhouse gases that wreak havoc with the environment. However, plastics may soon be joining the environmentally friendly asphalt paving industry as researchers are studying whether plastic can be recycled and used as part of the road-paving process.

Plastics vs Asphalt and the Environment

According to statistics released by the Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for 2022, plastic waste is being produced twice as much on a world-wide level than it was just twenty years ago. Additionally, the OECD maintains that only a mere 9 percent of that plastic waste is actually recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, burned, floating in the ocean, or polluting other natural environments.

Conversely, asphalt is the most recycled material in the US, and much of that recycling is done on-site. The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) maintains that 95 percent of asphalt pavement is recycled into new asphalt pavement. In 2022, NAPA introduced “The Road Forward” initiative, whereby the paving industry is committing to having net zero carbon emissions by 2050. If anyone can show the plastic industry how sustainability is done, it’s the asphalt industry.

Plastics in Paving

The asphalt industry is no stranger to incorporating other materials into pavement. NAPA lists recycled tire rubber, slag, glass, and more as being used at reclaimed asphalt pavement, or RAP. Adding plastics into the paving mix can potentially offer benefits by improving the longevity of roadways and offering a way to truly recycle plastics without creating greenhouse gases or more pollution.

The idea for using plastics in road paving started in India in the early 2000s. Developed by a man named Rajagopalan Vasudevan, shredded plastic waste is mixed with bitumen—the binder used in traditional asphalt pavement construction—and applied to roadways much like asphalt pavement mix. Researchers in countries like the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, Nepal, and Pakistan are also testing the use of recycled plastics in pavement. 

While only time will tell if “plastic roads” will hold up long-term, the possibility of finding a viable solution for recycling plastics is an exciting idea.

Tucker Paving has over 25 years of experience in the asphalt and concrete paving industry, and we are always excited by new innovation in the construction industry. Contact us online, or call us at (863) 299-2262 for assistance with your next asphalt paving project.