Asphalt has been a key part of road construction for generations now, without much thought ever being given as to whether or not it was actually good for the planet.
In reality, it’s a petroleum-based product that requires rock, sand, and fabricated cement components to stay strong and hold the pavement together. That means it requires drilling, mining, and processing before it can even be used a single time. On top of that, water runoff from paved surfaces is charged with water pollution, with asphalt constantly generating harmful gases called VOCs.
With all of this to consider, governments around the world have started exploring options other than asphalt for their road surface needs. Most recently, Tasmania invested in the first-ever Australian road to be made from recycled waste. Charlton Street is now being celebrated around the world as a shining example of creative resource management.
The Kingborough council worked in conjunction with road construction company Downer, as well as resource recovery and recycling companies Close the Loop and RED Group, to pull the project together. An estimated 500,000 plastic bags and other soft plastic packaging components were used to enhance the performance of standard paving materials. Somewhere around 100,000 single-use glass bottle equivalents were also diverted from the landfill and ground into a sand-like material for the new material, which is also comprised of 33 tons of recycled asphalt and the toner from 5,900 recycled printer cartridges.
“Together with Kingborough Council and our partners, we have proven that with thought, leadership, and the tenacity to make a positive difference, we have set a new benchmark in the State when it comes to sustainability by creating new avenues to recycle and repurpose waste materials. It’s all about pulling products, not pushing waste,” says Stuart Billing, Downer’s General Manager of Pavements.
Of course, the 500-meter road is still a bit of an experiment — albeit one aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of standard street resurfacing. The council is hopeful it will live up to expectations of a longer lifespan so they can continue expanding the concept to other areas. And while the upfront cost of the recycled road might be higher, it’s definitely worth the investment in the long run.
According to Close the Loop Australia’s General Manager Nerida Mortlock, the new ashalpt is a total “game-changer.” She explains: “Soft plastics don’t disintegrate well in landfill. What happens here is it’s melted down into an additive, [which means] no micro-plastics or pollution problems whatsoever.”
All of the organizations involved in the project hope to inspire other countries to develop similar partnerships with their own local eco-minded organizations to help “drive” the idea of recycled roads into reality.