Industry Impacts of VolkerWessel Recycled Plastic Roads

Wed March 15, 2017 - National Edition
Megan Wild

The plastic roads are modular and can house pipes in between the pieces and the ground.
The plastic roads are modular and can house pipes in between the pieces and the ground.

Environmental activists are always looking for newer and more innovative methods of recycling and reusing waste products. Recycled or repurposed products can be found from coast to coast, and if VolkerWessels' new design is representative of the future, we might soon see a recycled structure that actually does stretch from one coast to the other.

Their latest breakthrough — although it currently only exists as a conceptualization — introduces the idea of the plastic road. As its name implies, the structure is made from 100% recycled materials, primarily plastic soda and water bottles, to provide an eco-friendly alternative to modern asphalt or concrete.

The technology even results in a finished road that's expected to last three times longer than common materials.

Short- and Long-Term Impacts

As the investment in infrastructure increases, the advent of plastic roads could go a long way toward adding a bit of green innovation to an industry that has a reputation for polluting the environment. The amount of asphalt used around the world results in the release of 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide on an annual basis, but the pollutants used in the production, transportation and processing of asphalt add even more to this total.

In order to keep up with current demands, many roads and bridges utilize slipform concrete construction, which allows for a variety of concrete structures. Concrete is a fairly “green” product in terms of sustainability, but reusing materials for plastic roadways increases road sustainability even further. The effects of plastic roadways will be felt throughout the construction equipment industry. Because sections of plastic road can be manufactured at a remote factory and assembled on-site, some of the traditional roles and equipment used in road construction might fall by the wayside. Industrial-scale asphalt pavers, for example, would not be required at all.

We'll also see an increase in competition to supply materials for future projects. Because a single section of road requires a significant amount of plastic to create, the materials will have to be sourced in large quantities. This opens up the market to community recycling hubs, food and beverage distributors and retail outlets who all might see increased revenue in branching out to this niche.

Proactive owners can take advantage of plastic road construction as well as other green initiatives to bolster their image among the young professionals of today. By building a brand around eco-friendly construction, reduced carbon footprints and the use of new and innovative technologies, company leaders will be able to restore some of the damage done to their reputation over the past few decades while capitalizing on the latest trends in the industry.

Plastic Roads in the United States

The United States was responsible for more than 30 million tons of plastic waste in 2013 alone, but less than 10 percent of this was actually recycled. By adapting the concept of the modern plastic road to our own streets, avenues and even highways, we could achieve a better balance between these figures and support future operations in green construction and sustainability.

Although we still have years to go before we'll see any sort of plastic roadways in our country, the potential is certainly there.—CEG Blogger

*Megan writes in the residential and commercial construction industries. She is passionate about sustainable design and the adoption of technology in construction. When she's not writing or reading, you can find her in cafe somewhere, drinking too much coffee.