Plastic roads for sustainable mobility
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
In Italy, several cities are experimenting with the use of plastic materials to produce the road surface. Recycled plastics prove to be very performing and give life to environmentally friendly roads.
In Turin these days, a proposal to replenish the streets of one of the historic districts of the city is being discussed, San Salvario, using recycled plastic. This innovative method of road construction has already been tested both in Rome and in other European cities, highlighting the great potential of this new ecofriendly product.
"We believe" - says one of the creators of the project - "that this could be the right opportunity to experiment with innovative and sustainable solutions, alternatives to traditional asphalt."
The benefits of plastic
The idea of building roads with recycled plastic which, compared to asphalt, not only has a zero impact but also withstands high and low temperatures and has a duration and resistance of about 3 times higher, first came to Indians. As far back as 2002, they used a polymeric glue obtained from shredded plastic waste to build the Jambulingam road in Chennai. After about twenty years, despite the monsoons, the heat and thousands of cars, the road did not wear out, nor did it report cracks or potholes. These amazing results led India to invest in this low environmental impact construction technique. Today the Asian country has over 33,000 km of roads of this type and the Indian government aims to build more than 83,000 km of them.
In Europe, the first experiments with recycled plastic inside the road surface date back to a few years ago. In 2018 in the Netherlands, thanks to the collaboration of three leading road construction and recycling companies, the world's first Plastic Road, a 30-meter cycle path, was inaugurated. It consists of a series of prefabricated modules made of recycled plastic that fit together to form a road surface. For the construction, the equivalent of 218 thousand glasses and 500 thousand caps thrown in the garbage was recycled. The peculiarity of the project lies in the prefabricated modules hollow internally, which are very light and which can also be installed on sandy ground. The road that is laid has therefore the double advantage of allowing the passage of pipes and cables, which can also be used for recharging electric vehicles, and facilitating maintenance operations. Besides, in the case of rain, the water is collected inside avoiding the possibility of floods.
Italy, therefore, is also gearing up to keep up with the times and create its own "plastic roads". For instance, on the Via Ardeatina in Rome, the first stretch in the world was built with a super modifier in graphene and recycled plastic, the Gipave. This new product is the result of a collaboration among Iterchimica, Directa Plus, G.Eco (A2A Group) and the Bicocca University of Milan. The Gipave makes the asphalt more resistant up to 250%, thus preventing the formation of holes and also making it anti-smog and anti-ice. From an environmental point of view, the reuse of the materials already presents on the road, the increase in durability, the decrease in maintenance mean that the roads made with Gipave can be 100% recycled, thus reducing the extraction of new materials and the use of first use bitumen.
This new additive has also recently been used to build a runway at Fiumicino airport, the first of its kind in the world, to confirm the excellent results already achieved in the road sector in situations of great stress.
Estimates indicate that global demand for plastics will grow considerably in the coming decades. Technologies like these can prove to be of great help in limiting the environmental impacts associated with the disposal of plastic. The challenges that society is facing during this century concern precisely the reuse and conversion of waste for greater energy sustainability. A road surface that exploits waste products instead of being created ad hoc with the exclusive use of raw materials, offers a valid solution to the current pollution problem.