Commentary: Where the plastic meets the road

April 16, 2021
Paving projects using recycled resin may get a boost thanks to sustainability and infrastructure efforts coming out of the Biden administration.

This story appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Plastics Recycling. Read the digital edition here. 

By Ron Shinn

There inew interest in adding recycled plastic resin to asphalt for paving streets and parking lots. That’s a solid idea and it comes as the Biden administration appears ready to support recycling and invest in infrastructure projects such as roads. 

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) is managing a pilot project with resin manufacturer LyondellBasell to pave a parking lot in Ohio with asphalt fortified with 4,000 pounds of recycled PE film resin.  

There are two significant projects under way in California. 

The City of Los Angeles has resurfaced a heavily trafficked downtown street with asphalt containing recycled resin as part of a sustainability project called L.A.’s Green New Deal.  

Near Oroville, Calif., a 1,000-foot segment of busy Highway 162 was repaved in July using recycled plastic as a binder in the asphalt. 

The two California projects are in mild climate, but the Ohio parking lot asphalt will have to withstand the freeze/thaw cycles of harsh winter weather.   

The Scottish company MacReburwhich calls itself The Plastic Road Company, announced it plans to open a plant in Florida. The Florida plant will manufacture MacRebur’s products, which it says have been successfully used in road projects around the world. 

Adding recycled plastic materials to asphalt is not a new idea but it has been slow to gain interest in this country. Roads in India have long been patched with plastic-filled asphalt.  Projects are also under way in the U.K. and Netherlands. 

In Ohio, the parking lot is at LyondellBasell’s Cincinnati Technology Center. The equivalent of about 71,000 PE retail bags was added to hot asphalt to pave 2,885 square yards. If this project is successful, there are similar plans for another parking lot that is about five times bigger. 

Last summer, PLASTICS announced that research had been successfully completed on the process of adding recycled PE as a solid additive during the asphalt manufacturing process.  

New York-based Domino Plastics supplied the recycled resin. 

The downtown Los Angeles project paved a block of 1st Street between Grand Avenue and Hope Streetwhich is a high-traffic area in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.   

The project scraped up the asphalt already on the roadway, processed it onsite by adding recycled PET and repaved the street with the new material, which is believed to be five to six times stronger and more durable than normal asphalt. This process also eliminated trucks hauling away old asphalt and bringing in new hot-mix asphalt, estimated to be more than 80 trips for each mile of road. 

Los Angeles officials picked 1st Street for the test project because it gets heavy vehicle use and has suffered deep rutting and roadway deformation. L.A. has about 23,000 miles of roads and repaves about 2,000 lane miles each year. Officials estimate that about 25 percent of its roads could be candidates for this process. The test project is expected to take up to two yearto complete. 

Infrastructure projects are important to the Biden administration and may provide new uses of significant amounts of recycled plastic. 

Ron Shinn, editor

[email protected] 

About the Author

Ron Shinn | Editor

Editor Ron Shinn is a co-founder of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and has been covering the plastics industry for more than 35 years. He leads the editorial team, directs coverage and sets the editorial calendar. He also writes features, including the Talking Points column and On the Factory Floor, and covers recycling and sustainability for PMM and Plastics Recycling.