By: Manan Reddy, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand
Imagine roads that do not get pot holes, do not soak water, are cheaper to build and maintain as well as eco-friendly! Plastic, maligned as a totally non-eco material, is being put to a novel use. To build eco-friendly roads. These ‘green’ avenues, offer a simple, doable, modern answer to a modern day problem – ‘what to do with used plastic.’
The road leading up to the circuit house in the heart of Jamshedpur looked like any other freshly laid black top avenue. But for a road sign saying it was made out of waste plastic. The city, which does not have a municipal corporation and is managed entirely by the Tata Group, has many citizen-friendly initiatives to its credit. But ‘a plastic road’ was seriously futuristic, one felt.
“Roads constructed with one part of plastic wastes to nine parts of bitumen or tar have double eco-benefits – reuse of hazardous plastic, which could have otherwise clogged drains, caused flooding, choked animals who ate them or ended up in landfills and incinerators. And a longer-lasting, low-maintenance, recyclable, water-resistant road that uses less tar which itself is a petroleum product,” says Dr R Vasudevan who has patented this technology.
“Plastic has become a part of our life. In fact, only because of plastic we have something called plastic surgery! People trust plastic. They buy their milk in it. Yet, it is essentially non – biodegradable,” says Gaurav Anand, Senior Manager at Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (JUSCO).
An environment engineer, Anand was inspired by Dr Vasudevan’s plastic-tar road technology but found it tough to carry out this work. “Since the roads require no maintenance at least for 5-10 years, the builders, who thrive on this recurring road maintenance, were never interested. However, the response of the Tata Group, who are genuinely interested in creating a progressive, world class city in Jamshedpur, allowed this experiment.”
As part of the experiment, JUSCO set about door-to-door collection of municipal solid waste in the city and its segregation. The organic waste dispatched for composting, the usable plastic – tonnes of x-ray films, cups, plates, carry bags – were put through a shredder and cut into 2-4 mm pieces.
The aggregate or small stones that are used in preparing the black top layer of the road were heated to about 160 degrees. The shredded plastic was thrown on to the heated aggregate. It melted and quoted the rubble, making it water proof, says Pratyush Dandapat of JUSCO who superwised the entire operation in Jamshedpur.
Quoting with plastic before mixing the aggregate with bitumen cut down on the amount of bitumen and added to the finish and longevity of the road, says Anand.
Dr Vasudevan explains the pro-environment economics of the plastic-tar road. Laying one km of a 3.75m or single lane road requires about 10 tonnes of bitumen at about Rs 50,000 per tonne. If you substitute 1 tonne of plastic (about 1 lakh carry bags), it cuts the cost down. Then, its maintenance free and has double the life of a normal road. These roads have proven to be more water proof and hence, not susceptible to pot-holes, he adds.
Dr Vasudevan has been making these roads for the last decade. The road that leads to Chail airport from Shimla, is a plastic road. Several states have asked for plastic roads and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha had declared in her party’s election manifesto in the recent state elections that she will go for plastic-tar roads for rural Tamil Nadu, if voted to power.
In fact, Chennai is truly pro-active on this eco-front. As people do not know how to properly dispose their domestic plastic waste, plastic collection shops have been set up in every ward of the city that buy the plastic, shred it and supply it to the corporation for road building. “There is enough plastic that can be recycled. All we need is a system in place for its collection,” says Dr Vasudevan. He himself visits schools to talk to students about plastic reuse. He asks students to get their domestic plastic waste to their schools, which are then turned into collection centres.
Landfill or incinerating plastics is not the right way as it exudes extremely toxic fumes. But in this process, the plastic is merely melted and no toxic gases are formed, he adds. Dr Vasudevan, readily provides his technology to constructors.
It’s a synergy of pioneering technology and progressive thinking on part of large corporations such as the Tatas that can create an eco-positive future even for non-biodegradable materials like plastics while building low-cost, sustainable infrastructure.
Gaurav Anand is a happy man. It has been decided that all future roads in the Steel City will be Plastic-Tar Roads.
“Did you know that the Pacific Ocean has been rechristened ‘Plastic Ocean’, thanks to the plastic waste found in it. Burying plastic forever into roads is the safest,” he says.
From Eco Earth Care Optimised
Sounds fantastic. On the other hand, scientists have been finding micrometer-sized plastic fragments from washing machine loads (from synthetic fabrics) in the oceans. Is there a risk of the same thing happening here I wonder? How inert is the plastic in the roads?
Roads is indeed a good avenue for disposal of plastics and needs to be patronised by changing IS specifications for roads to include this as a standard material. We need to find out more and more uses for plastics e.g in construction of buildings which could absorb a lot of the plastic waste.