The Netherlands is already home to the world’s first solar road (or bike lane, technically). Now, the country could soon be the first to use recycled plastic as pavement.
The idea for plastic roads comes from VolkerWessels, a Netherlands-based construction firm. According to the company, plastic roads would be a “virtually maintenance free product” that’s “unaffected by corrosion and the weather.” The roads could handle temperatures as low as -40°F and as high as 176°F. The company says that this hardiness will make the roads’ lifespans three times as long as typical asphalt roads.
According to the company, any type of recycled plastic can be used. The main goal, the company says, is to keep plastic out of the oceans.
The idea for plastic roads came after the company took a look at all the different road-related problems cities face, said Simon Jorritsma from InfraLinq, a subdivision of VolkerWessels and KWS Infra that works specifically with asphalt. Those problems included a future where oil — the main component of asphalt — is less available, as well as more immediate problems like flooding and road maintenance.
“For contractors, asphalt is a great and sound product to build roads,” Jorritsma said in an email to ThinkProgress. “However, contractors have to meet more and more demands concerning noise reduction, water permeability, and flatness. These questions and conditions were the inspiration which have led to the idea of the PlasticRoad.”
The company is also hoping to avoid some carbon dioxide emissions by switching asphalt roads to plastic ones. The carbon footprint of asphalt totals 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, the company says, so using recycled plastic instead could help cut down on some of those emissions.
Jorritsma said that using plastic instead of asphalt would cut down on the carbon dioxide required to produce, transport, and process asphalt. And, he said, because plastic roads are predicted to last longer than traditional roads, the CO2 associated with regularly replacing the surfaces will also be saved.
The concept is still in the idea phase — there aren’t any plastic roads being tested in the Netherlands yet, and the company says it still needs to test the idea in a lab to see how it performs under different conditions; whether it’s safe to drive on when wet, for instance. But the city of Rotterdam said this month that it was considering serving as a pilot for the project.
“We’re very positive towards the developments around PlasticRoad,” Jaap Peters, a representative from Rotterdam’s city council’s engineering bureau, told the Guardian. “Rotterdam is a city that is open to experiments and innovative adaptations in practice. We have a ‘street lab’ available where innovations like this can be tested.”
Jorritsma also said that if Rotterdam ends up deciding not to serve as a pilot, other cities have shown interest, so he doesn’t think finding a site for road testing will be difficult.
The Netherlands is no stranger to innovations in road technology. Last year, the country opened the world’s first solar bike lane, a 230-foot stretch of road embedded with solar cells that are protected by two layers of safety glass. In the first six months of operation, the road produced more energy than expected: about 3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to power a single small household for one year. As of May, about 150,000 cyclists have ridden over the road.
Because the Netherlands is a relatively small but densely populated country, its people must think of new ways to be creative with space, Jorritsma said. Sustainability has therefore become an obvious creative solution.
“We think the Netherlands [is a] knowledge driven country,” he said.