Could Plastic “Lego” Roads Pave The Way To A Greener Future?

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Caroline Reid

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1156 Could Plastic “Lego” Roads Pave The Way To A Greener Future?
Prototype design for plastic roadways. VolkenWessel.

Some adults never “grow up,” and it seems that these engineers still have their minds in the toy box. They have designed “road blocks” that are like enormous Lego pieces, able to be snapped in and out of place easily. Even better, they're designed to be made from recycled plastic dredged from the oceans.

The road to success is always under construction. However, this new road hasn't even made it past the design stage yet. The plastic roads, surprisingly named PlasticRoad, have a long journey ahead of them before we drive over them on a daily basis.


The city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is teaming up with the company VolkerWessels to create prototype plastic roads. The Netherlands is a haven for recycling: it is one of the few European countries to recycle more than half of its waste, according to the European Environment Agency. The plan is to take waste plastic from the sea and grind it up into a coarse aggregate. This aggregate could then be quickly melted and molded into road-form. These molds include spaces in the middle for the pipes and electrical cables that typically run under roadways. 

Naturally, when designing roadways that would reasonably support hundreds or even thousands of cars a day, structural integrity would be a concern. The VolkerWessels website claims that the plastic can withstand temperatures between –40oC and 80oC (–40oF and 176oF), and that the road is resistant to corrosion and weather damage. The company also claims that PlasticRoad is ideal for roads that travel over structurally poor ground, such as swampy or sandy soil. Its endurance has not yet been tested.

A design of PlasticRoad. VolkerWessel.

The prefabricated roads would be made in a factory, transported to the installation site and then slotted into place. Ideally this design would reduce construction time on the roads, which would hopefully reduce the amount of time that road blockades are up during road construction.


“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,” commented Rolf Mars, directing the project at VolkerWessels, to the Guardian.

This project is ambitious and it may be years before we find out if the pre-fabricated plastic is road-worthy and can replace traditional tar and asphalt roads. This design is an interesting shift in road building: engineers are thinking not only about how to lay roads quickly, but also how to pull them up quickly.

This isn't the first time that plastic has been suggested or even used in roads. India has been replacing parts of roads with recycled plastic waste. The replacements are stronger and cheaper. Plastic is harmful to the environment, so instead of letting plastic waste lie stagnant by the roadside, the state of Himachal Pradesh is laying it into the roads themselves. 



Report of recycled plastic used in roads in India.


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