Are plastic roads on the horizon?

Going green is worthwhile and progressive, and understanding our environmental short-comings while planning for the future can safeguard our future generations.

Lately, we've heard of self-driving cars, smart highways, and now we have a whole new product to speculate about: Plastic Roads.

VolkerWessels is a Dutch construction company, and they've recently announced their intentions to build roads made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. They claim plastic roads have a lifespan triple that of asphalt roads and can easily handle temperatures from 176 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees below zero. The Netherlands have long been known to be on the cutting edge of sustainable technology, from ground breaking discoveries in wind farm tech to the world's first solar road, a 70-meter stretch of cycle path between two suburbs of the city that generates solar power from rugged, textured glass-covered photovoltaic cells. Add plastic roads to their list of innovations.

"Plastic roads offer all kinds of advantages compared to current road construction," said Rolf Mars, director of VolkerWessels’ roads subdivision. "Rotterdam is a very innovative city and has embraced the idea" of plastic roads," said Mr. Mars. "It fits very well within its sustainability policy and it has said it is keen to work on a pilot."

VolkerWessels details a long list of potential benefits of pure plastic roads. First, it is claimed the road could better withstand extreme temperatures, as low as -40° C (-40° F) and as high as 80° C (176° F). It would also be more resistant to corrosion and last three times as long as asphalt, while minimizing the need for maintenance. The material would also be lighter and allow better control over factors like road stiffness and water drainage, while a hollow space within could be used for all sorts of things. Some of ideas offered up by VolkerWessels include running cables and pipes and housing traffic loop sensors.

Increased production and availability are two advantages, since these plastic roads can be built in a matter of weeks-not months. Building pre-fabricated sections in a factory and transporting them wherever needed seems like a great idea. Being virtually maintenance free is another perk, easing congestion by reducing construction crews blocking traffic.

“It’s still an idea on paper at the moment; the next stage is to build it and test it in a laboratory to make sure it’s safe in wet and slippery conditions and so on. We’re looking for partners who want to collaborate on a pilot – as well as manufacturers in the plastics industry, we’re thinking of the recycling sector, universities and other knowledge institutions,” Mars said. The company hopes to produce pavement within the next three years.

Somewhat surprising is the toll asphalt takes on our environment: asphalt is responsible for 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, and two percent of all road transport emissions. To the green community, plastic roads is such a fantastic idea given the fact asphalt is so harmful to the environment.

To look to the Netherlands for future automotive applications is always exciting, and maybe their innovations and commitment to the environment will rub off on the old United Stated of America. Who knows? Smart Highways and plastic roads may just be our future. Who thought someday we'd be driving on Tupperware?