Recycling old plastic bottles into new pavement

Sustainability |  2 min. read

What’s the BPM where you live?

Ok, we’re a LITTLE ahead of ourselves – but one day soon, “Bottles Per Mile” may be how we talk about paving our streets and highways – as in, how many recycled plastic bottles are needed for each mile of pavement.

BPM doesn’t exist, yet.  But actually, recycling plastic bottles for paving roads – that is definitely happening now – in the UK and Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and in India, where the idea was first, ummm, uncapped?

Plastic to pavement makes plenty of sense.  The strength and durability of plastic bottles, which makes them good for our drinks the first time around – makes that same plastic an excellent choice for reuse.  And since not all of us are recycling our empties, finding a use for the ones that get tossed, that’s smart too.

The new generation of “plastic parkways”, is driven by a Scottish company, MacRebur.  And as they told CNN, their “recipe” uses about 20,000 plastic bottles-worth of plastic for every ton of asphalt.  Appropriately enough, finding the right mix of plastic to asphalt does sound like something out of “the Scottish play” (Macbeth) – hours of stirring big kettles (“Double, double, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble”).*

But unlike Macbeth, all that “toil and trouble” turned out well (maybe because they weren’t cooking up “eye of newt and toe of frog” – just pieces of plastic).  This new pavement is about 80 percent asphalt, and 20 percent of the recycled plastic.  The Scots say that the result is sixty percent stronger than a conventional road surface, and they project that it will last two to three times longer (“project”, because this is too new to have a long history out in the field).

That not only makes transportation engineers happy, fewer potholes (that STRONGER surface) is good news for everybody who fastens a seatbelt.  And maybe it just goes to show how much we can do with petroleum:  we can not only make the fuels our cars run on, we can use it to make the roads our cars drive on, and the tires our cars ride across those roads on, and…well, you get the idea.

So maybe Sting was right.  There really IS a message in a bottle.

*MacRebur’s particular plastic mix is a trade secret, but all sorts of plastics – bottles, bags, packaging, objects – can be ground up and blended into pavement.)