The world, and particularly the ocean, has a massive plastic problem. The gravity of the impact of the hundreds of millions of plastic bottles, packaging and other debris thrown away every year, most of it not recycled, is symbolised by the great island of plastic floating in the Northern Pacific. Sitting between California and Hawaii, this is the largest example of concentrated patches of plastic and other rubbish brought together in areas where circulating currents meet. It is now said to cover an area larger than Mongolia, or three times the size of France, and weigh around 79,000 metric tons.
As with almost all of the environmental problems our presence is besetting the world with, the solution will be a combination of both cure and prevention. The latest technology in the world is integral to both parts of the equation. A Dutch nonprofit, the Ocean Cleanup, is working on technologies to clean up the great Pacific plastic garbage patch and a multi-million pound project hopes to see around half of the waste removed over the next 5 years.
The huge volumes of plastic that new technology will hopefully help clean up from the world’s oceans over coming years has to go somewhere. And we still use huge amounts of plastic every day. One part of prevention and cure for the plastic problem may come in the form of the latest technology in the world of roads construction.
Recycling plastic into roads reputedly started as a ‘needs must’ habit in India where locals would take it upon themselves to repair potholes by filling them with plastic garbage and melting it into place. The relative effectiveness of this improvised plastic road patching gave entrepreneurs the idea to look more closely at using recycled plastic to actually build roads.
There are 400 million kilometres of roads in the world and this network is constantly growing. Roads are mainly made of asphalt, which uses an oil-based substance called bitumen like glue to stick sand and crushed rock together. We use hundreds of millions of barrels of oil in the building of roads. Asphalt is also a relatively good solution for roads from a cost to durability ratio perspective but is not perfect and asphalt roads are prone to potholes developing.
Lockerbie, Scotland-based engineering startup MacRebur have developed an asphalt that uses recycled waste plastic instead of oil as its binding agent. The company uses a secret mix of waste plastic pellets made from processed plastic waste. Several local UK councils have already trialled the plastic roads, which MacRebur say are both stronger and cheaper than those made of conventional asphalt. With the volume of bitumen used every year, the new plastic-tech alternative could, if adopted across the world, put a significant dent in the world’s waste plastic problem.