A possibility of stronger plastic roads

The non-biodegradable plastic wastes found choking the landfills can be put to good use after all. This was demonstrated at a 150-meter road above the Olakha automobile workshop by an eco-friendly company, Green Road. The road stretch was resurfaced using polymerized bitumen, a compound which is a mix of churned plastic, around 515 kgs collected from with asphalt and aggregates.

The new road blacktopping technology is dedicated to the 60th Birth Anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. About 515 kgs of plastic waste was collected from the Memelakha landfill for the project. So far, Green Road has collected about 15 tons of plastic waste from Memelakha since April, additional 5 tons was bought from Greener Way at the cost of Nu 25,000 per ton.

The founder of the Green Road Rikesh Gurung said, “In a day Thimphu alone generates about 15-20 tons of plastic waste and with 10 employees, we could collect roughly 150-250 kgs of waste plastic per day.”

Green Road is working on its objectives of saving the environment by segregating all plastic waste from the landfills in the country, building eco-friendly roads and reducing import of bitumen and investment on bitumen for road construction, and to generate employments for the youth in the country.

Rikesh Gurung was given assistance and support in implementing the project by Bhutan Opportunity for Information Centre (BOiC), Thimphu Thromde and Department of Roads.

He was inspired to use waste plastic in the blacktopping of roads while studying at Thiagarajar College of Engineering at Tamil Nadu in 2003. He saw waste plastic being reused to blacktop the roads by the Indian Road Congress and Central Research Institute.

After receiving training and gaining work experience in the field for a few years, Rikesh Gurung returned to Bhutan to establish Green Road in Bjemina industrial estate with support of Nu 5.1 mn from BOiC and Nu 4 mn from his parents in 2013.

He said that the use of plastic waste in road blacktopping will have tremendous advantages, like better binding properties for longer durability and strength to withstand more loads. The road will also have more resistance to water caused by stagnation. There will less wear down due to ultraviolet rays, and the cost of road construction and maintenance work can be reduced.

“The use of 1 ton of plastic waste for constructing a 1km of road with 3.5m wide can save 1 ton of bitumen,” Rikesh Gurung said. He further added that disposal of waste plastic will no longer be a problem as the use of waste plastics on the road will provide a better place for burying the plastic waste without causing disposal problems.

A research scientist at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Ramalinga Chandra Sekar, who is in the country to provide technical assistance said, “Following research and tests, since 2002, the use of plastic waste for blacktopping proved to be a great success in India, and it will have great impact in Bhutan as well.”

Chief Engineer with Department of Roads, Chador Gyeltshe said that the use of waste plastic for blacktopping will reduce 30-40 percent of waste at Memelakha, and if trial works out then it will be replicated in other places as well.  Green Road will be working along with Neten Construction Pvt Ltd for blacktopping the roads in 20 dzongkhags if trail works are approved.

Green Road has a plan to reuse pet bottles and hard plastic wastes to make blocks for covering drainage that can withstand 300 tons of load comparing to the 10 tons of concrete blocks.

An official from the BOiC said if the trials go well, then it Green Road will have the opportunity to blacktop the feeder roads in all 205 gewogs. The proprietor of Neten Construction said, “We would carry second trial in high altitude, where the use of asphalt blacktopping has given rise to numerous potholes due to the low temperature.”

In using 515kgs of waste plastic, Green Road has spent an estimated amount of Nu 22,707 and for 1 tons of waste plastic, they spent about Nu 40,000. In doing so, Green Road saved 515 kgs of bitumen and found that 1 ton of waste plastic is much cheaper than 10 tons of bitumen.

It is hoped that reusing of the waste plastic will have major impact and benefits on the environment and also replacing imports.

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