Innovative project turns waste plastic into sustainable building material
October 25, 2018
By Andrew Livingstone
Mexichem is behind a project that aims to create better roads using recycled plastic, creating a more durable, sustainable and intelligent surface that helps to reduce plastic pollution.
A revolutionary design for a recycled, circular road surface is becoming a reality in the Netherlands, thanks to Mexichem and partners.
This September, the first section of PlasticRoad was launched in Zwolle, the Netherlands. PlasticRoad initiators Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma were joined by representatives from Wavin and members of local and provincial government – together with Member of the Provincial Executive of Overijssel, Bert Boerman and Alderman William Dogger of the municipality of Zwolle, to ride the cycleway and cut the ribbon, officially launching the pilot program.
The 30-meter section of cycle way is made of a significant amount of recycled plastic – the equivalent of more than half a million plastic bottle caps. It contains polypropylene, much of which is collected from residential sources in the Netherlands. The developers’ goal is that eventually, it will be made of 100% recycled plastic.
The section of cycle path is built along a low-lying and well-traversed route close to the city center and train station, which is prone to flooding during heavy rains. It is equipped with sensors that monitor road traffic, pressure, weight and other factors, which will be used to determine the road’s strength and durability. This makes PlasticRoad the world’s first smart bike path.
The idea for a plastic road was originally proposed by two employees of Dutch roading firm KWS as a concept to create a climate-proof, sustainable and circular product that could replace traditional road surfaces with a product that uses recycled material.
A circular project is one that solves a social issue by creating a large-scale positive impact on people, business and communities. PlasticRoad aims to do this by taking recycled waste material that may otherwise end up as landfill – or worse in the ocean – and using it to create a durable and sustainable product that would otherwise be manufactured using more environmentally damaging or polluting materials.
PlasticRoad is equipped with sensors that monitor road traffic, pressure, weight and other factors, which will be used to determine the road’s strength and durability.
Wavin technical and marketing employees read about the concept on a website in 2015, and contacted the company, offering to work together and share their experience in plastics towards developing a feasible product. The original concept design was not feasible, as it would not carry heavy loads and was not possible to produce. From here, the Wavin development team redesigned the road using their experience with lightweight plastic infiltration and attenuation systems.
Wavin’s expertise in plastics and innovation in stormwater management systems was key to developing a sturdy yet lightweight design for a road made of plastic that can carry heavy loads and last for years, as well as providing a water infiltration and attenuation system that can prevent surface flooding for years, even in heavy rains, making PlasticRoad truly climate-proof infrastructure.
Faster, stronger, longer lasting
To make manufacture of the road faster and easier, it has been designed in prefabricated, modular elements. This way, roads can be manufactured and sold in large tile-like squares. These squares can be transported to the site of the road and installed much faster than the time it traditionally takes to lay roads, reducing the amount of traffic and disturbance associated with roadworks in cities. Likewise, this modular system makes maintenance and replacement much quicker and easier.
The lighter, hollow build allows for a water infiltration or attenuation system, which also replaces the need for pipes to be built underneath the road. In the case of heavy rainfall, water drains into the integrated plastic gutters at the edges of the road, and into the hollow surface, from where it can either slowly infiltrate into the ground, or be transported to an open water or treatment location. This system helps avoid the flash flooding associated with irregular rainfall patterns that are becoming more common in a changing climate. These patented gutters are designed for fast surface drainage and have easy maintenance filters to avoid leaves and other items entering the system.
The modular squares also have a patented click connection system on each end, which makes installation fast and easy on any surface. The companies involved in the PlasticRoad project also have a third, general patent on the road.
While monitoring continues in the first public PlasticRoad, preparation is underway for second pilot section to be installed in the nearby Dutch town of Giethoorn in November. Giethoorn, known as the Dutch Venice for its canals in place of roads, is low lying, and with weak soil, is prone to flooding, making it an especially difficult challenge for roading. This site will fully test the water infiltration and attenuation ability of PlasticRoad, in a town famous for its natural beauty.
Meanwhile, Wavin, KWS and Total continue testing sections of road in non-public spaces, with heavier vehicles. The firms hope to launch more pilots of PlasticRoad for different applications, including as parking lots, train platforms and sidewalks, so that in the future, plastic pollution could be replaced with plastic solutions to modern city infrastructure.