Turning plastic waste into asphalt: paving the way for sustainable roads

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For truly sustainable and circular systems to be realized, every facet of normal life must be reconsidered, from the cars we drive to the roads we drive them on.

As the holiday season approaches, many of us in the we are preparing to travel to be with friends and family, a reality that was impossible for most of us last year. While many travelers are given ticket prices and COVID guidelines
when deciding how to reach their vacation destinations, the climatic impacts of these trips should also cross our minds – given that transportation is the key. biggest contributor
to GHG emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 29% of total emissions in 2019.

While this number primarily refers to emissions from the cars, trucks, trains and planes that transport people and goods across the country, the roads on which much of this movement occurs present another key player in the push towards more sustainable transport. The asphalt used to pave these roads is a major source of air pollution, with Yale
researchers

saying it’s just as important to find ways to make roads more environmentally friendly as it is for cars and trucks.

Companies such as Dow strive to achieve this through Recycled Polymer Modified Asphalt (RPMA) production technology, which turns plastic waste into sustainable asphalt for roads and parking lots. Midwestern retail giant Meijerthe recent adoption of this technology by parking its Holland, Michigan location offers a clear case study of the potential that asphalt must lead us towards a more sustainable and circular future.

Circularity in action

Meijer, one of the largest retailers in the United States and a staple for Midwestern families, has long been a vehicle for more sustainable and circular practices in the communities it serves. Since 2014, Meijer offered an in-store drop-off recycling program at each of its locations to ensure customers properly recycle plastic films – such as bread, dry cleaning, and single-use shopping bags – than most departments. selective collection are not able to process and therefore end up in landfills. This year, Meijer predicts the program will recycle six million pounds of plastic.

Image credit: Meijer

Meijer’s recent collaboration with Dow goes one step further by giving that plastic waste a new goal: all the recycled plastic used to produce the new parking lot, around 12,500 pounds of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic – the equivalent of 944,000 plastic grocery bags – were collected as part of the recycling program. These bags, once considered waste, have now been given new and lasting value and functionality.

A collaborative case study

The process of transforming these plastic bags into durable and durable asphalt involved many phases and many partners. First, the plastics recycled by residents and collected by Meijer were converted into PCR content usable by
PADNOS, a Michigan-based materials recycler. Second, asphalt emulsion company K-Tech Specialty Coatings used Dow’s technological expertise to bond the base asphalt with the PCR content. Building contractor
Rieth-Riley then produced the final hot asphalt and paved the new parking lot.

This level of collaboration is essential to unlock those kinds of sustainable, circular solutions that are needed to close the loop on waste. The pooling of the expertise and skills of these teams made it possible to create the best possible product. For example, in 2017, Dow entered into a partnership with the government of Indonesia reduce plastic waste in the ocean by 70% by 2025, using this technology; and in August of this year contributed to the creation of an RMPA parking lot at University of Missouri. These partnerships allow us to create new functional, sustainable and valuable life cycles for plastic waste.

Paving the way for more sustainable roads

For truly sustainable and circular systems to be realized, every facet of normal life must be reconsidered, from the cars we drive to the roads we drive them on. Although the majority of the roads we take to reach our families and friends this holiday season are not paved with asphalt modified with recycled polymers, the success of projects such as the Meijer parking lot brings us closer to this more sustainable circular route.

Bryce K. Locke