Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced annually, and approximately, 8 million tons dumped into the oceans. It is estimated that by the year 2050 our oceans will be filled with more plastic than fish.
In 2002 at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Dr. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, an Indian scientist, constructed the first road made of plastic, which is still used today. During one of Vasudevan’s early experiments, he discovered that plastic has great binding properties. Plastic combined with bitumen, the chemical usually mixed with gravel to make roads, increases a road’s flexibility and durability.
To make these plastic roads, 50 grams of bitumen are used for every kilo of stone. 1/10th of plastic waste is then mixed with the bitumen. This new paving mix doubles the strength of the road and prevents potholes and other disintegration. Some environmentalists fear that the plastic’s dangerous fumes will be released when the plastic is heated. However, according to Dr. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, “plastic decomposes to release toxic fumes only if it is heated at temperatures above 270C (518F),” whereas even on a hot, summer day, a road will only become as hot as 140F. To make the mix, the process requires heat of 338F, so there isn’t an issue of dangerous fumes being released in either case. Since 2002, more than 21,000 miles of plastic roads have been constructed in India.
Today, Vasudevan’s idea is being implemented thanks to NHAI, the National Highways Authority of India. The NHAI revealed that it is pushing to construct highways out of plastic, especially near urban areas with populations of over 500,000 people. These types of roads are being built all over the world, not just in India. In Indonesia, plastic roads are being constructed using a similar paving mix in places like Bali, Surabaya, Bekasi, Makassar, and Solo. In 2018, the first plastic road was built in Zwolle, Netherlands for cyclists. Recently, the United Kingdom announced that they would invest 1.6 million pounds on research and development of plastic roads.
As the usage of plastic is skyrocketing, the world needs to find solutions, such as this, to decrease pollution and to help the environment and our future generations.
dan.edel.77. “How An Indian Man Inspired Strong Plastic Roads Across The World.” Intelligent Living, 13 Mar. 2020, www.intelligentliving.co/indian-man-inspired-strong-plastic-roads/.
“This Indian Genius Created Roads With Plastic Waste, Now Entire World Uses His Technique.” IndiaTimes, 9 Feb. 2020, www.indiatimes.com/technology/science-and-future/meet-padma-shree-r-vasudevan-who-made-roads-stronger-with-waste-plastic-that-saves-our-planet-505994.html.
“Could Plastic Roads Make for a Smoother Ride?” BBC Future, BBC, 3 Mar. 2021, www.bbc.com/future/article/20210302-could-plastic-roads-make-for-a-smoother-ride.