From Bottles to Bike Lanes: The First PlasticRoad Opens in the Netherlands

©. Simon Jorritsma and Anne Koudstaal, inventors of PlasticRoad

We have lots of waste plastic and not much use for it, so why not use it instead of asphalt or concrete?

Those crazy Dutch, riding around without helmets or high-viz. And now they are doing it on crazy bike lanes like this one, which PlasticRoad has made from recycled plastic instead of the usual asphalt.

section of plasticroad

© PlasticRoad section

The 30 meters of plastic bike path contain recycled plastic equivalent to more than 218,000 plastic cups or 500,000 plastic bottle caps. The pilot location is equipped with sensors to monitor the road’s performance – including temperature, the number of bike passages and the durability of the road. With these sensors, this PlasticRoad is the first smart bike path in the world.

Even without the sensors, PlasticRoad is a smart idea. I first wrote about it when it was still a concept and was a bit dubious, but that was before I read the Ellen Macarthur Foundation's work on plastics and the circular economy, and before I read Vince Beiser's new book The World in a Grain, where one learns that asphalt is terrible stuff, basically sand mixed with fossil fuels, two things we should use less of.

Both asphalt and concrete are basically just gravel and sand stuck together. The difference is the binding agent. In concrete, it’s cement. In asphalt pavement, it’s bitumens.
benefits of plastic road

PlasticRoad/Screen capture

But if we are short on sand, we are certainly long on waste plastic, which is rarely recycled, and is mostly downcycled into a lower grade use, like plastic lumber or lawn chairs. In Europe, it is often burned as fuel and called sustainable, even though it puts out more CO2 per pound than coal. "The PlasticRoad creates a high-value second life for plastic waste by recycling it and using it to build roads. In this way, the companies want to create a durable outlet for the excess of plastic waste of today."

no helmet

© Shocking photo of child without helmet/ PlasticRoad

It is also faster and has less impact on the surroundings. The inventors, Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma tell us:

This first pilot is a big step towards a sustainable and future-proof road made of recycled plastic waste. When we invented the concept, we didn’t know how to build a PlasticRoad; now we know.

Whether it will scale to support the weight of trucks and the heat from exploding cars is another story. But we certainly like the idea of going from bottles to bike lanes. More at PlasticRoad.

high viz

© Better. Now they are wearing hi-viz. Now put away that phone. / PlasticRoad