Can our recycling problem be solved by using plastic for roads?

Plastic pollution is a growing global problem, and recycling rates for plastic are dropping across the U.S. and the world. The concept of using discarded plastic to pave roads has been hailed as a solution by viral videos and think pieces alike. But is using plastic for roads a viable solution to our global plastic pollution crisis?

Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Scientific Advisor, Pete Myers, Founder and Chief Scientist of Environmental Health Sciences calls it a “quintessentially bad idea.”

“For this to make a difference, it would have to go to scale, with massive numbers of roads being made of recycled plastic,” said Myers. “If it didn’t go to scale, it would become a boutique band-aid, allowing us to feel good about a faux solution but not really solving anything.”

According to Dr. Myers, using plastic for roads would even contribute to the problem:

“Roads degrade because they get abraded by vehicular traffic. That becomes massive amounts of micro and nano plastic particles as plastic dust. Storm runoff would carry it into the wastewater system or directly into surface waters. Air currents would transport it in the wind … Sooner or later a lot of it would wind up in the oceans. It would become even more of a problem than what we have today. Exactly how much of a problem would depend upon what mix of polymers were used and what additives might be in the plastics, as that would determine the particles’ toxicity. It’s terrifying to think about, frankly.”

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The ultimate solutions to plastic pollution are the systemic ones that require individuals, businesses, and government officials working together, said Dianna Cohen, CEO Plastic Pollution Coalition.

“The idea that we can recycle our plastic into roads is just another false solution promoted by industry that does nothing towards source reduction,” she said. “It’s time to turn off the tap. We need a systems shift away from toxic plastics and towards systems of reuse.”

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