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Brief Published: 6 Nov 2019

Los Angeles Trials Plastic as Asphalt Alternative

Los Angeles will repave the street in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with plastic asphalt

As Los Angeles reckons with mountains of recyclable plastic waste, the city is finding a solution in an unconventional location: its streets. The city partnered with local landscaping products company Technisoil Industrial to develop an asphalt alternative that leverages upcycled plastic. It’s being tested in the city’s busy downtown area.

Technisoil’s ‘plastic asphalt’ is made from shredded PET plastic melted into an oil, which acts as a binder for concrete paving. The company estimates that the recycled material can eliminate emissions by 90% when paving roads, since it doesn’t require excessive heating or multiple vehicles to apply. It could also be a cheaper option – Los Angeles estimates that replacing petroleum-based asphalt with plastic will reduce initial costs by 25%, with subsequent savings due to the new compound’s durability. Lab tests show plastic asphalt lasts up to 13 times longer, since it’s less brittle than bitumen.

Technisoil’s material will also help LA mitigate overflowing landfills, following China’s refusal to accept certain US rubbish for recycling. By repurposing plastic garbage as plastic asphalt, the city creates a new infrastructure that helps reduce waste levels.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen upcycled materials used as paving. As we note in Evolving Plastics, UK county Cumbria is reinforcing asphalt with recycled plastic pellets from Scottish start-up MacRebur. In the Netherlands, Eindhoven partnered with Dutch studio Atelier NL and local collective Envisions to develop pavement materials that incorporate waste, a initiative we detail in The Brief.

What’s especially notable about LA’s project, is the heavy traffic in the trial area. To test viability for a city-wide rollout, it’s repaving the street in front of Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by American architect Frank Gehry – a clever move to build public awareness and support.

For more on sustainable uses for plastic, see our reports The New Plastics Roadmap and The Wealth in Waste.