A government order in November 2015 has made it mandatory for all road developers in the country to use waste plastic, along with bituminous mixes for road construction. This initiative falls in line with the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that aims to address India’s garbage crisis. This is to help overcome the growing problem of plastic waste disposal in India.
The technology for this was developed by the ‘Plastic Man Of India’, Prof Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Professor of Chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai. The plastic waste items that can be used for road construction includes carry bags, plastic cups, plastic packaging etc. The process is simple. The collected plastic waste is first shredded to a uniform size and then mixed and heated with bitumen that acts as a good binding agent. This process of road construction is extremely eco-friendly with no toxic gases being released. Moreover it has generated an additional job for ragpickers. Roads constructed using waste plastics are durable against extreme weather conditions, are cost effective and pothole resistant says World Economic Forum.
Chennai was among the first cities globally to adapt the technology in a big way when the municipality commissioned 1000km of plastic roads in 2004. Since then all major municipalities in India have experimented with the technology including Pune, Mumbai, Surat, Indore etc. In December 2019, India has built 21,000 miles of roads using plastic waste. Till now, the country has almost 1 lakh km of plastic roadways that means every 1km road uses 1 million plastic bags. Using plastic waste can help India, which has the world’s second largest road network, in curbing road accidents death. Potholes, a common feature of roads in India, are responsible for one tenth of deaths that occurred in 2017 due to road accidents in the country. And roads constructed out of plastic waste are potholes resistant.
India produces about 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily of which about 9000 tonnes is recycled. The remaining plastic is either burnt leading to air pollution, end sup in landfills or clogs drains. At a time when the entire world is struggling with the disposable problems of huge volumes of plastic waste, professor Vasudevan’s technology is easing out India’s plastic crisis. However plastic roads can end up being more expensive if taken in the long run because if we wholly accept plastic roads as a solution to the plastic crisis then we will be regressing on our path to a plastic-free society. While it is a long way before the omnipresent plastic is shunned out of our lives completely, the least we can do is reduce, reuse and recycle. And if plastics can be effectively used to construct more and more roadways it will be a great load off the planet.