Can plastic debris help pave the way to a more sustainable future?

Mixing hard-to-recycle plastics into pavement

Working hand-in-hand with government officials, waste collectors and others, we discovered a way to link the reuse of plastic waste with a need for new road construction.

The outcome? “Plastic roads” – roadways paved with polymer-modified asphalt (PMA) using postconsumer recycled plastic.

To construct these roads, plastic waste is first collected. Volunteers pick through debris, which is taken to local recyclers who process the material. The plastics are then finely ground before being mixed into Dow’s ELVALOY RET asphalt modification technology.

In addition to keeping tons of plastic out of the ocean that might take hundreds of years to decompose, roads following this process are more durable and longer lasting. They also generate less greenhouse gas emissions by replacing nearly 10 percent of bitumen that would be used in road asphalt.

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Tons less waste and miles of new roadways

In Indonesia, Dow worked with the government and various stakeholders to complete the first plastic road trial in Depok. Approximately 3.5 metric tons of plastic waste material were mixed into asphalt to create a 1.8-kilometer-long road, which covered a total area of 9,781 square meters. The result of the project was a highly resistant plastic waste-based road that was stronger than standard asphalt roadways.

Demand for this technology is growing throughout the Asia-Pacific region, where plastic roads have already been constructed in India, Thailand, Phillipines and Vietnam.

In India, Dow worked with government officials and waste collectors in Bangalore and Pune to bring together the people and materials needed for 40 kilometers of roads – diverting 100 metric tons of waste from landfills (that’s equivalent to 25 million flexible pouches!).

“This project shows the creative solutions we can come up with when we collaborate with partners to create a sustainable system to advance a circular economy,” said Candra. “It engages communities on a local level and provides a new value to plastic litter in those communities.”

Extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions, and we all share a responsibility to prevent plastic waste from undermining ecosystems.