Materials

World’s first used-plastic bicycle path launched in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is trialling a new way to reuse plastic waste with the launch of the world’s first reused plastic bicycle path.

The path is 100 feet long (30 metres), based in the 1,300 year old northern town of Zwolle, and is approximately two to three times more durable than the current asphalt paths in use.

Asphalt concrete alone creates approximately 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, which equates to up to two per cent of global road transport emissions. The new plastic replacement contains the equivalent of 500,000 plastic bottle caps.

With eight million tonnes of plastic ending up in the ocean every year, subsequently polluting marine life and entering the human food chain, this innovative method reuses one waste product whilst reducing the production of another in CO2 emissions.World’s first used-plastic bicycle path launched in the Netherlands

The inventors, Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma, released a statement describing the pilot as “a big step towards a sustainable and future-proof road made of recycled plastic waste”. The new initiative was launched last week by Dutch engineering firm KWS, pipe maker Wavin and French oil major Total.

The path contains sensors to monitor the road’s performance, from its temperature to the number of bikes that pass over it and its ability to cope with this traffic. The path is designed so that rainwater drains off it, so it is safer for cyclists during rainy seasons.

Yet, the trial has proved to be divisive. Whilst leading environmental expert Guus Velders claims it is a “positive step” towards a more circular use of materials, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth, Emma Priestland, has said that plastic pollution should be tackled by reducing its initial unnecessary production and use.

“Using plastic to make a bicycle path may help to keep plastics out of landfill”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email, “but it’s still unclear what happens to this plastic as the surface of the path is worn away.”
Meanwhile, Harmen Spek, Innovations and Solutions Manager at anti-plastic lobby group Plastic Soup, claimed that small particles of plastic could find their way into the living environment through heat, causing wear and leakage of plastic.

Despite such protests, the Dutch Government intends to open a second bike path in the northeastern village of Giethoorn in November, with Rotterdam likely to be the first city to adopt plastic paths. The cycle paths are just one step in the government’s move towards a circular economy and its pledge to halve its use of raw materials by 2030.

Worldwide responsibility

It is not just the Netherlands that is recycling plastic to create new infrastructure, with UK towns also taking a proactive approach to plastic pollution: Enfield council, for example, trialled plastic waste for road resurfacing earlier this year. As Cllr Daniel Anderson, Enfield’s Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “We all know that plastics can have a devastating impact on the environment, particularly when the product reaches our seas and oceans. We all have a responsibility to step up our efforts to help the environment by recycling more, upcycling and responsibly sourcing materials.”

Cumbria also tested plastic roads late last year, spending £200,000 resurfacing the A7 in Carlisle, with similar work taking place on the A709 in Dumfries and Galloway. The success of the trial of plastic resurfacing in Enfield has led Transport for London to provide more funding for MacRebur, the company supplying the plastic, to resurface more roads across the borough.

The company is garnering increasing interest as nations begin to consider how to innovatively make use of waste plastics. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all recently requested plastic pellets produced by MacRebur to create their own plastic roads.

Meanwhile, Nelplast, a local company in Ghana, has also developed a new way to reuse the 98 per cent of plastic which doesn’t get recycled in the country, mixing it with sand to create new pavement blocks.

Plastic waste has recently come to the forefront of international environmental concerns, with ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ as the theme of this year’s UN World Environment Day. It has been estimated that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish – meaning that finding innovative ways to reuse plastic has become a worldwide issue.

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