THE disposal of plastic waste is a big environmental problem. Plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade. Improper disposal results in flooding, pollution and harm to marine life. While some plastics are recycled and some are burned in cement kilns and waste-to-energy plants, a big volume still goes to sanitary landfills. A sizeable quantity remains uncollected and contaminates the environment.

Laws are passed in an attempt to address the problem. Recently, the National Solid Waste Management Commission has declared that plastic straws and stirrers are non-environmentally acceptable products which will lead to their phase-out. At the Senate and House of Representatives, there are several pending bills that either ban or regulate plastic. It will take a long time before any of these becomes laws. Even if they are approved, they will not be the only solution to the plastic problem.

Another way to address the plastic waste problem is to find alternative uses. There are a lot of ideas in the internet on how to turn plastics into usable items like pots, decorations, containers, etc. But this solution only utilizes a small volume of plastic waste.

One way to use plastic waste on a large scale is by mixing it with asphalt or concrete for road construction. There are studies that say roads containing waste plastic perform well or better than traditional roads. Using plastic waste for road construction can also reduce construction costs and conserve natural resources.

India started using plastic waste for roads twenty years ago. It has installed over 60,000 miles of these roads. India’s Minister for Road Transport made it mandatory in 2016 to add waste plastic into bituminous roads. In Accra, Ghana’s capital, asphalt was mixed with used plastics shredded and melted bags, bottles, and snack wraps.

In the Philippines, the first recycled plastics road was done by San Miguel Corporation (SMC) in General Trias, Cavite in 2019. The company said it used over 180,000 sachets and plastic bags for asphalt that was laid on a 1,500-square meter pilot test site. The plastic waste acts as a binder for the production of asphalt and can help make roads more durable. The tests done by SMC showed that it exceeded the standards of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Researchers have also shown disposable face masks could be recycled to make roads. Almost all disposable face masks are made of plastic microfibers. The study showed that using the recycled face mask material to make just one kilometer of a two-lane road would use up about 3 million masks, preventing 93 tons of waste from going to landfill.

The new road-making material developed by RMIT University researchers in Australia meets civil engineering safety standards. This would make good use of the estimated 129 billion face masks that are used globally every month. They just have to find practical ways to disinfect the facemasks before using them.