A stretch of a new bike path in the Dutch city of Zwolle looks like it’s made of red asphalt. But the path is the first experiment in building a road from recycled plastic.
“We used post-consumer waste that otherwise would be dumped or incinerated,” says Gert-Jan Maasdam, a director of technology at Wavin, a subsidiary of the plastic piping company Mexichem, which built the path in collaboration with the engineering company KWS and the energy company Total, as the first pilot in a project called PlasticRoad. The design is a way to make use of plastic that typically has little value, like old plastic bottles, beer cups from festivals, cosmetic packaging, and plastic furniture. (The pilot uses 70% recycled plastic, though future designs will use 100% recycled plastic.) But it also may be a better way to build a bike path or road.
The design’s modular pieces are prefabricated and lightweight, making them easy to move and fast to install. The project partners say that a full road that might take months to build using traditional methods could be installed in days. The plastic, which is weather resistant, should last two to three times longer than asphalt. Recycled plastic has a lower carbon footprint than asphalt or concrete. Because the design is hollow, it can help store rainwater and prevent flooding. When the road or path is worn out, it can be recycled again, making it a circular design.
The first bike path, a little shorter than 100 feet, is filled with sensors that will monitor the road’s performance, measuring the temperature, durability, and how many cyclists use the path. A second recycled plastic bike path will be installed in November in a nearby city and tested further. The insights from the tests will help tweak the design. The partners hope to scale up the design to use in parking lots, sidewalks, and ultimately streets.
“It’s hard to predict how many of the world’s roads will be built with plastic,” says Maasdam. “But the underlying economics and benefits of PlasticRoads outweigh traditional roads.”