At least six states are experimenting with mixes of plastic in roadway paving, with some favorable performance results. Monitoring is underway to determine if usage leaks microplastics into waterways and which mixes are most durable against heavy truck traffic and extreme weather.




Transportation officials in multiple states are testing whether roads made from grocery bags, juice cartons, printer ink cartridges or other discarded plastic can make pavement last longer, save money and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

On sections of a busy, four-lane road that cuts through the University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, the Missouri Department of Transportation, in collaboration with the university, is running a pilot program that combines recycled plastic bottle pellets with an asphalt mix to pave the road.

“You can do theoretical stuff in a lab, but this is actually taking the next step, putting it on a real-world road with real traffic,” said Ed Hassinger, the agency’s chief engineer. “Our best-case scenario is that it makes the asphalt more resilient and durable and gets rid of a waste stream that no one can do anything with.”

At least half a dozen states in the past few years have started pilot programs to test plastic roads, according to Melissa Savage, former program director for environment and sustainability at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

New federal legislation and programs have added to the momentum because of the government’s commitment to using sustainable materials, said Savage, who earlier this year became a partner at Boston-based engineering firm CDM Smith.But states are monitoring closely to ensure microplastics from the new pavement aren’t leaching into waterways.

In May, the California Department of Transportation tested an asphalt mixture that contains 10% recycled plastic from printer ink cartridges on a shoulder of Highway 99 in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, according to spokesperson Will Arnold.





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