A leading chemical company is using recycled plastics to help build new roads.
Usually, we don’t think of big chemical producers as the hero, and even less so when they’re big plastic chemical producers. But Dow Chemical seems to be doing something right with their latest initiative to keep plastic garbage out of landfills.
Since 2017, Dow has been using old, thrown-away plastic and used to create brand new roads. So far they’ve saved 220,000 lbs of the stuff from either ending up in a landfill or the ocean, and they plan to save a whole lot more.
It all centers around using plastic to create new road surfaces. Normally that would be done with just asphalt and concrete, but Dow has somehow figured out a way to combine regular asphalt with ground-up recycled plastic to produce a substance that’s even better than the normal stuff that’s used to make roads.
In a report from Business Insider, Dow says that the plastic roads are more resistant to erosion from weather and vehicles, reducing the number of potholes formed over time. The stuff is much better at enduring wild temperature swings from as low as -40 F to as high as +176 F, which might allow it to last up to three times longer than regular concrete alone.
Dow began a pilot program at one of their facilities in Texas back in 2017 by paving two private roads with 1,700 lbs of recycled plastic, or the equivalent of 120,000 plastic grocery bags. Once that proved successful, Dow offered to help Indonesia with their plastic problem and start using their garbage to create public roads.
At the time, Indonesia was one of the worst plastic polluters in the world with the bulk of their plastic winding up in the Pacific Ocean. The Indonesian Government signed an agreement with Dow to create roads in Bangalore and Pune using 100 tons of recycled plastic. So far, those roads have been a huge success, with Thailand following in Indonesia’s footsteps just last July.
Unfortunately, US regulations often prevent the use of novel materials in road resurfacing, preventing the new material from coating American roads. Critics of the program also urge caution stating that it’s possible for toxic chemicals to be released from the recycled plastic.
However, the researcher who created the road resurfacing technique states that toxic chemicals are only released at temperatures in excess of 518 degrees F.