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  • Writer's pictureInfrastructure Exchange

Could this game changing technology help Africa?

South Africa has begun construction of the first 'plastic' road in Africa it was recently announced. The road, made up of recycled plastic beads, is the brainchild of Scottish entrepreneur Toby McCartney, who first notice locals in Southern India utilising plastic materials as “pothole fillers” by placing plastic waste into potholes and setting it alight.

An order by the Indian Government in November 2015 has made it mandatory for all road developers in the country to use waste plastic, along with bituminous mixes, for road construction.

According to the order, urban areas with 500,000 or more people are now required to construct roads using waste plastic.

The project, “Swachh Bharat” (“Clean India”), has the blessing of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has made it a personal crusade.

The technology used was developed by the ‘Plastic Man’ of India, Prof Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Professor of Chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai. Through trial and error, by sprinkling shredded plastic waste over hot gravel and coating the stones in a thin film of plastic, Vasudevan discovered that plastic and tar bond well together because both are petroleum products. His process was patented in 2006.

Jambulingam Street was one of India’s first plastic roads. By 2016, there were more than 21,000 miles of plastic road in India with almost half in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. While the majority are rural roads, a small number have also been built in Chennai and Mumbai.

Plastic tar roads are made with a discarded, low-grade polymer. Every kilometer uses up to 1 million plastic bags and costs approximately 8% less than a conventional road.

The World Health Organization (WHO) have reported that 17% of the world’s traffic fatalities occur in India, with crumbling roads partly responsible for the high death toll. In 2014, potholes alone caused more than 3000 deaths.

Plastic roads therefore, address more than cost considerations, but address both environmental and societal concerns too. Seems like a a no-brainer.

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