I have always found road trips to be very exciting. It helps us to witness new cultures, architectures and developments.
I came across this board by JUSCO (Jamshedpur Utility and Services COmpany) during my road trip to Jamshedpur, and I told myself, Woahh So cool! It intrigued me and I frantically began reading and researching about this super cool innovation! To my dismay, there unfolded more mystery!
Since ancient times, roads are used to connect people and places. Along with science roads have also evolved to become more strong, sturdy and durable. From roads drawn out of plain mud land to roads made up of stone, gravel and sand mixed with water. The earliest record of a proper hard road was found from Assyrian empire constructed in about 1900 BC. The modern roads use asphalt with bitumen to act as a binder. These roads are more durable and its durability can be increased by using synthetic polymers as additives.
Evolution of Roads
Researchers are trying to use disposable plastics in alternative ways, one of which is using it in pavement and road constructions. Roads and pavements, frequently undergo wear and tear and the cost will be considerably higher to construct a thick pavement and road as larger amounts of asphalt aggregates would be needed. The waste plastics which are available free of cost replaces asphalt thus, reducing the total cost of construction by whopping Rs. 50,000/ km. Therefore, use of additives like PET mixed into asphalt helps to make durable and stable roads more cheap and affordable.
Claims suggest that the use of bitumen has been reduced by 7 per cent ever since JUSCO began using waste plastic in road construction work and the quality and longevity of roads made of waste plastic-aggregate-bitumen was two times better than bitumen road! – Sounds just perfect!!!
Let’s have a look at how its done:
Plastic roads are constructed using two types of processes- Dry process and wet process.
- Dry Process
The plastic waste is shredded into smaller pieces and heated along with the aggregates to 170°C. During the heating process due to the high temperatures, toxic fumes are released and can pose as an occupational health hazard to the workers. The bitumen is also heated to 160°C and then mixed to the plastic mixture. Although this process helps to utilize plastic waste, it is not a completely clean process from environmental point of view.
- Wet Process
In the wet process, powdered form of the waste plastic is mixed with hot bitumen before adding it to the aggregates. The temperature of bitumen is in the range of 155°C to 165°C. Similar to the dry process, wet process also requires to heat the plastic to high temperatures that leads to generation of toxic fumes.
|FACTS that are not so fun
Plastic Roads – Pros
- Resistant to degradation, moisture, changes in temperature and high tyre load.
- Channelize disposable plastic into recycling
- Cost effective
Microplastics and leachate formed from plastic waste
- Plastics get oxidized under UV light because they are usually coated with UV –stabilizers. Over time they breakdown into smaller pieces, the pieces that are less than 100 micron are called microplastics,. Microplastics are tiny little particles of plastic that are invisible to naked eye. These microplastics are eaten by phytoplanktons and they travel up the food chain, come back to our plate after taking the trip!
- Toxic elements of plastics like phthalates leach into groundwater and contaminate both soil and water. Phthalates are known to cause birth defects, cancer and hormonal problems in women. They also can be preserved in the food chain. Moreover, poorly build roads increase the risk of leaching and bioaccumulation of microplastics.
- During the heating of plastic along asphalt, toxic fumes are generated. These fumes can cause respiratory problems and skin allergies.
Each grade of plastic requires a different set of processing. The plastics contribute major portion of recyclable dry waste, however most of these are contaminated with beverages or food, that renders it non recyclable.
Every time we throw an unclean plastic, know it, that it will lie on the planet forever and 7 generations down, our children would be able to see the heritage that we pass on! Let’s give them something pretty to live with!
Plastic roads reality appeared like a technology with a double edged sword. Takes care of seen plastic waste but leads to unseen toxic in the water and air.
How can we contribute?
- Segregate all plastic waste into dry waste, and keep them clean and compact. Remember, not clean? Not recyclable!
- Shop consciously – Remember the table above, know your plastic- do not buy the non recyclable ones.
- Carry your cloth bags for shopping,
- Say no to straws and other disposable, opt for sustainable alternatives
- Select natural fiber clothing such as organic cotton and hemp. Atleast someday they will leave the planet without harming little innocent sea creatures
Your seen waste can become unseen waste posing long term environmental impacts.
And you can bring a positive change!