Plastic Pellets in Roadways — A Good or Bad Idea?

This interesting article appeared in the Times showing the PA Department of Environmental Protection [or Pollution, take your pick] embedding plastic pellets into a roadway in Ridley Creek State Park, which they can do without County approval since they own the park.

Though it does keep the plastic out of the incinerator today, plastics never go away so we should be wary of these solutions that seem to just kick the can of eliminating plastics down the road.

Not being all knowledgeable in these matters, we asked a friend about it, and got these questions:

  • DEP says it won’t, but how do they prevent leaching of the toxic chemicals in the plastics into the environment as the pellets break down?
  • They tout that it increases life of road, but the previous lasted a very long time, so is the increase worth the risk?
  • And what do they do with the paving at end of life (i.e., have we just moved the problem to the next generation, our kids)?
  • Does this really move us away from the linear consumption model (does it reduce extraction of oil)? [The linear model is: oil extraction, making plastics, then landfilling or incinerating those products with no reuse/recycling.]
  • Will this compete with efforts to reduce non-recyclable plastics (i.e. investing in the infrastructure that needs waste plastic for payback)?

Plastics are harmful in every stage of their production. They are incredibly convenient, but that convenience masks the lasting impact they impose on the environment.

And by the way, if they really want to save money, the biggest savings in paving is to recycle the paving as they mill the road and put some new material in the mix and put it back down. That eliminates the need to dispose of the milled material. DEP says they only get 15% back this way. It would seem to be a better opportunity than adding an expensive new technology like plastic pellets.

Published by ZeroWasteDelco

Supporting zero waste initiatives in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

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