Recycled Plastic Bottles and Ink Cartridges Build Roads

Source: KWS Infra

Source: KWS Infra

Following up on the SolaRoad project that passively generates electricity, the ever-environmentally conscious city of Rotterdam, Netherlands, is turning to a different facet of conservation by using discarded water bottles to create plastic road pieces.

If all goes according to plan, and this proposed PlasticRoad project comes to fruition, the city of Rotterdam would set a world’s first for having a street surface that is built entirely out of recycled plastic. Construction firm VolkerWessels is spearheading this unorthodox approach to pavement, and when its plans were first revealed on July 10th it was greeted by equal amounts of praise and inquisitiveness. VolkerWessels is laying down some pretty big claims too, saying that this design of theirs will require far less maintenance than asphalt, can withstand greater temperature extremes, could be laid in a matter of weeks rather than months, and has a lifespan that is three times as long as a traditional paved road.

Source: KWS Infra

Source: KWS Infra

The company also stressed that “asphalt generates 1.6 million tons of CO2 emissions a year globally” and that because plastic streets are lighter they can help reduce a lot of the unwanted weight that causes sinkholes. Plastic roads can supposedly be made hollow as well to accommodate things like fiber-optic cables, gas and sewage pipelines, and any other subterranean form of infrastructure.

Sections are designed to be like giant connecting Legos and are prefabricated in a factory to reduce on-site construction times, thus alleviating any congestion issues that may be caused by elongated periods of roadwork. And like Legos these lightweight hollow plastic “bricks” make it possible for transit vehicles to both move more sections of road at once while saving fuel at the same time. Shorter install times also means less strain on taxpayers, and in countries like the Netherlands, where taxes are already insanely high, this kind of cost cutting is surely a welcome respite for many.

VolkerWessels hopes to put down the world’s  first fully recycled strip of “tarmac” within three years, and Rotterdam has already announced its interest in being the host city where this new roadway is built, as it pines for the international green limelight. Which is actually a pretty smart move if developments like this have uncapped potential down the line, because being the first city in the world with heated roads that are made out of ultra-quiet recycled surfaces is quite the bragging right. But these Northerners aren’t the only ones looking to create a “green mile” for cars to travel down, as the race to have the greenest street is about to heat up.

Source: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Source: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 miles away, on the opposite end of the equator, another recycled road is conceived in a moment of plastic-powered passion. In a move to create an environmentally conscientious asphalt mix like no other, the city of Sydney, Australia, has started using recycled printer toner to reinforce its roads. This move heralds the world’s first commercial use of toner waste, as it rides on the coattails of a similar project first utilized in Melbourne back in 2013, when someone found a way to store toner powder in pellet form.

Commonly known as TonerPave, this unusual surface was first developed by Aussie road contractor, Downer, who teamed-up with a cartridge recycling company called Close the Loop. This clever substance is formulated by blending toner with recycled oil, thus making it 40% more energy efficient than using bitumen, which is what most asphalt roadways are coated with around the world. The goal is to one day take all of Australia’s spent ink toner and use it in an asphalt mix, which is easier said than done, as on average 13% of the toner in a cartridge is wasted by consumers who toss it in the trash instead of recycling it properly.

Source: TonerPave

Source: TonerPave

According to Close the Loop it takes about 100 toner cartridges to make a ton of asphalt, and at the current pace of production around 14,500 tons of TonerPave can be produced per year, which is enough to slather a monolithic 1,291,664 square feet of asphalt. Recycled toner will contribute to more than 100,000 tons of environmentally friendly asphalt production over the next 12 months, but since Australia used over 750,000 tons of asphalt in 2014 alone the project needs to grow exponentially.

Sydney has tested the product on several streets since September of last year with great success, and if the product proves to be more long-lasting than  regular asphalt’s 30-year lifespan it will begin to be utilized in all paving practices across the continent. At $150 a ton, the mix costs the same as regular asphalt, and economists are expecting this price to drop as time goes on. So as the city of Sydney tries to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 we wonder if this move toward making roadways greener will catch on here in the States. We sure hope so.

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