Minister's roadmap for plastic roads in India

Besides improving environmental sustainability, roads constructed with plastics are found more durable and cost-effective. Plastic and bitumen bond well together because both are petroleum products. Nitin Gadkari, union road transport and highways minister, spoke in the Lok Sabha about how this combination enhances the road’s ability.

27 Oct 2022 | By Disha Chakraborty

Plastic waste has been used in constructing roads in 11 states

While addressing the Lok Sabha, Nitin Gadkari, union road transport and highways minister shared that the ministry has issued guidelines for mandatory use of waste plastic during periodic renewal. The plastic waste can be used with hot mixes and in wearing coats of service road on national highways within 50km periphery of an urban area having population of more than five lakhs.

Use of plastic waste in construction of roads protects the environment from adverse impact of waste plastic. Plastic roads consist of 6-8% plastic, while 92-94% is bitumen. Gadkari had announced the usage of plastic waste in road construction in 2016. Since then, plastic waste has been used in constructing roads in 11 states.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report, as much as 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic waste was generated in India, which is approximately 9,200 Tonnes Per Day (TPD), in 2018-19.

The report stated that the total municipal solid waste generation is 55-65 million tonnes and out of it plastic waste is approximately 5-6%. To regulate use of plastic, the Union Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change has issued a draft Plastic Waste Management Rules 2021 which proposes a ban on the manufacture of plastic.

India consumes an estimated 16.5 million tonnes, as per this June 2018 report of Down to Earth. Additionally, according to industry body FICCI, 43%  of India’s plastics are used in packaging and are single-use plastic. Consequently almost 80% of total plastic produced in India is discarded. Some of it is either burnt leading to air pollution, ends up in landfills or clogs drains. Plastics found in fields block germination and prevent rainwater absorption.

Since 2001, the plastic man of India R Vasudevan, dean, Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai, and his team at the Centre for Studies on Solid Waste Management (CSSWM) have been researching the feasibility of using plastics in construction of roads. Laboratory results of mixing waste plastic with heated bitumen and coating the mixture over stone proved positive and he implemented the use of plastic waste on a road constructed inside the premises of his college in 2002. In 2006, the Thiagarajar College of Engineering received the patent for this technology. Later, a performance appraisal by the CPCB showed that plastic roads did not develop familiar defects: potholes, rutting, ravelling or edge flaws, even after four years.

Besides improving environmental sustainability, roads made by plastics are found more durable and cost-effective. Plastic and bitumen bond well together because both are petroleum products. This combination enhances the road’s ability to carry weight, as well as its life. The roads also show greater resistance to damages caused by heavy rains.

As of July 2021, 703 km length of national highways have been constructed using waste plastic in a coat of flexible pavement. This information was shared by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.