Asphalt Industry Evaluates Using Recycled Plastic

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Robison Wells

Plastic accounts for 19 percent of all municipal waste and is one of the chief environmental threats in the waste stream. Efforts to make plastic more reusable have been ongoing for decades, and many construction projects have found innovative ways to do so. The newest idea is to include used plastics in the makeup of asphalt.

In October 2019, the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and the Asphalt Institute created a task force to look into the possibility. The task force hired the National Center for Asphalt Technology to begin research, starting with a State of the Knowledge report, which includes summaries of plastic recycling and research, and then a presentation of the findings of more than 110 papers written on the subject.

“The challenge we are facing is that plastic in asphalt roads sounds so simple, but in reality, it is rather complex – we have to consider worker health and safety as well as quality and performance,” said NAPA president & CEO Audrey Copeland, P.E., Ph.D in a press release. “NAPA has championed research problem statements that are being funded by the National Academies of Science and Engineering, more specifically the Transportation Research Board National Cooperative Highway Research Program to answer questions that are absolutely critical to understanding if plastics are viable in asphalt.”

The research is partially in response to the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act of 2019, which included a provision for looking into the recycling of plastic in infrastructure. The bill included $800,000 in funding for the project.

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