Is plastic the new pavement? Roads made of recycled ocean trash could be built in just weeks

Updated Jul 27, 2015

Plastic roads may seem more well suited for Hot Wheels, but a Dutch company is aiming to bring the toy track to the test track.

VolkerWessels announced last week that it was working on plans to bring the world’s first plastic road to the Netherlands. The PlasticRoad project is still entirely conceptual, and the company is looking for partners to collaborate with. However, VolkerWessels has highly ambitious plans for the project, dubbed PlasticRoad, with claims that the project would revolutionize transportation.

The company has said that the recycled plastic would be more durable, require less maintenance and be more resistant to the elements—the road is said to be able to handle temperatures between about -40F and 176F. Testing has yet to begin, but the company expects the lifespan of PlasticRoads to be at least 50 years based on the lifespans of similarly used plastic products for sewage pipes and plastic platforms.

“Plastic offers all kinds of advantages compared to current road construction, both in laying the roads and maintenance,” VolkerWessels’ director of roads subdivision KWS Infra Rolf Mars said.

The roads, which would be hollow for cables, pipes and rainwater, would also feature modular construction with a lightweight design to make construction easier. Individual sections could be made in the factory before being shipped for assembly. The company claims PlasticRoads could “be built in weeks instead of months.”

VolkerWessels is also claiming that the PlasticRoads would be more environmentally friendly than traditional aggregates used in paving. As it is, asphalt causes 1.6 million tons of carbon emissions each year. Meanwhile, 100 percent of the plastic used to create PlasticRoads would come from the the eight billion kilograms of plastic trash floating around the ocean—plastic trash that is normally burned, further damaging the environment. Additionally, all of the PlasticRoads can be recycled for use on a new road once their expiration date has passed.

When the project is ready for testing in approximately three years, the Dutch city of Rotterdam has already volunteered to help run the test trial on the city’s “street lab.”

“As far as I know we’re the first in the world [to try this],” Mars said. “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. Rotterdam is a very innovative city and has embraced the idea. It fits very well within its sustainability policy and it has said it is keen to work on a pilot.”