Each day, India produces 6,000 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic waste. On top of this, the country has one of the highest rates of road accidents in the world. They had half a million of them just last year, among which 15,000 people died due to potholes.
And surprisingly, there’s a way to tackle both issues- and at the same time.
Back in 2002, Rajagopalan Vasudevan, a chemistry professor in the southern Indian city of Madurai, tested out an idea that mixed normally unrecyclable plastic waste (from carry bags to cups and potato chip bags) with heated asphalt, the primary material used to make roads. After successfully building a road at his college with this mix, reducing asphalt usage by 10%, he decided upscale his idea by approaching governmental officials.
Has it Worked?
Yes and no. Although the Indian government made it mandatory in November 2015 to built most new city streets with waste plastic, some states have been slow to do so due to difficulties in collecting plastic. But this may change following the Indian government’s recent pledge to invest $11 billion to build 52,000 miles of roads over the next five years. Given that 21,000 miles of roads in India are currently made from plastics, experts are calling their government to use this investment as an opportunity to see more plastic in their roads.
According to Isher Judge Ahluwalia, the former head of a government committee on urban infrastructure, “Plastic roads will not only withstand future monsoon damage but will also solve the problem of disposing of non-recyclable plastic. Each kilometer of a single-lane tar road can consume one ton of plastic waste, and the plastic can double or even triple the life of the road.”
Adding to this, as using plastics both increases the lifespan of roads and reduces quantities of asphalt used, road construction costs could decrease by as much as 50%.
Unlike some other social entrepreneurs, Vasudevan has patented his plastic road solutions. And so, although he has received queries from Europe and the Americas for his technology, he has sworn that “Swacch Bharat” (Clean India) is his first priority. He said, “Once we have made headway in almost every part of our country, we will share this technology with other countries.”
However, this doesn’t mean he hasn’t inspired other countries to do the same. Even despite his patents, Bhutan has adapted his anti-waste approach aiming to consume “all the plastic waste in the country”.
To conclude, India could resolve its plastic waste problem by mixing otherwise unrecyclable plastics with asphalt, in turn making its roads both more durable and cheaper to construct. Although its exact methodology is not available to those outside the country yet, it can still inspire others to do something similar.