Definition: Ecological engineering is an emerging study of integrating ecology and engineering. Ecological Engineering is a relatively new field of work that aims to adjust the way we do things to achieve a sustainable future.
Humanity in developing at an incredible growth pattern. As humans, we seek to achieve amazing defeats. BUT, all victories will come at a cost. In this particular case study, the cost is environment pollution and resource depletion.
At the end of the day, the goal of all companies to make a dollar, the more dollars the better. Sometimes, the most cost effective solution will be one that sacrifices the environment
Our current earth is currently producing a vast amount of waste. The population is on the rise and hence and increase in waste production rate. However, this is not the only issue. Problems also include collection and disposal. The LA times remarks that “By taking our waste away from us so efficiently, it makes us more inclined to dispose of more”.
What are the threats and consequences?
Waste in the environment poses a huge health and safety issue, we all know that. However, there are also finical and social consequences too. Waste many seep through the soil and pollute the groundwater system in which the environment is reliant on. Plastic, in particular, can be toxic to humans, animals, and the environment.
Why are we using plastic?
It has become routine to use plastic in society. It is wear resistant which means it can outperform paper and metal products. Plastic is also light weight. This in turns reduces energy in transport and material handling. Plastic is strong and resistant to high and low temperatures.
Why is plastic bad?
Plastic is not bad, plastic pollution is bad. The collection is an important factor to consider. Humanity must be vigilant when it comes to sorting and recycling.
However, due to social needs, more and more plastic is being produced and hence the volume of plastic waste may become over welling. More recycling methods are required to accommodate the amount of plastic that we use.
The BIG Idea: Plastic Roads
What if we were to use the plastic as an alternative to asphalt bitumen? Could it work? Will it solve our plastic conundrum? The concept of plastic roads is a new idea that has potential to solve the plastic crisis. However, much research is required to support the innovative solution.
How are roads created and what are they made of?
Roads require Clearing of vegetation, earthworks, dust control, laying the foundation, traffic control, sealing AND THEN a layer of asphalt bitumen. asphalt is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. The primary use (70%) of asphalt/bitumen is in road construction, where it is used as the glue or binder mixed with aggregate particles to create asphalt concrete.
How will plastic roads save the environment?
We need a solution to saving the environment. 1.5 million marine animals are killed each year from plastic. By tackle the recycling issue, we will improve the quality of life.
If plastic roads have so many benefits, why haven’t we switched over?
the idea of plastic roads is great but there are still many flaws in the idea and much more research is required. It is an ongoing process. Implementing change is never easy. Many companies find it difficult to adapt to change. A few examples why are:
- High initial cost of buying new equipment
- Unknown production methodology, hence low production rate
- Lack of skilled workers
- Government and council approval will take longer
Smalls steps are required to make a big change. But adding small sections of plastic roads amongst the bitumen road, people will not realize that plastic roads function just as good as bitumen road.
Don’t we have enough roads?
New roads are always required, especially with the urban sprawl trend. Perth is growing sideways more than it in expanding upwards. This, in turn, means that more roads are required to provide connection to these new land developments.
Not only is this so, but roads are constantly in need of refurbishment and replacement. If a new surfacing is required, plastic roads could be an alternative instead of spraying a new asphalt surface.
Current method of recycling and disposal
Plastics need to be sorted in their resin type. It is then shredding, sieved, separated by rates of air and liquid density. After this process, it is melted down. During this process, a large quantity of carbon dioxide is dumped into the atmosphere. however, some plastics are not recycled and are buried in landfills. Amongst the rubbish is a quantity of plastic. Before the trash is buried, the waste is burnt is open air, hence releasing many toxic fumes and carbon dioxide. The trash that is deposited stays in the ground indefinitely. Plastic roads are means of using the sorted-out plastic and turning them into road segments.
Benefits of Plastic roads
Plastic roads last longer and can outperform asphalt surfacing. They can be pothole resistant due to its uniform material composite. As discussed before, these road segments will be prefabricated in factories and transported out to the site. Hence for they can be made in bulk and distributed when needed. Plastic roads are designed with hollow centers which allow for less material usage. In addition, drainage is allowed for and other communication and electrical conduits can exist within the structure.
Lifespan of roads
According to google, road pavement has a lifespan of 39years, the average life span of a sprayed seal surface is 13 years and the average lifespan of an asphalt surface is 26 years.
Some popular plastic has lifespans of over 450 years. A few examples are followed:
- Plastic bottles 450 years
- 6 pack collar – 500 years
- Polystyrenes foams – 5000 years
Flexible, resilient, and durable – plastics have facilitated innovation and convenience in almost every area. Strong polymers in plastic are extremely resistant to natural biodegradation processes. This means that traditional plastic products can persist in landfills for hundreds of years, if not indefinitely. Using plastic instead of asphalt, roads may adopt the plastic lifespan property.
floods are usually caused by heavy rainfall. They can also occur in coastal areas, caused by a strong storm, tsunami or a high tide corresponding with higher than normal river levels. River floodplains and coastal areas are the most vulnerable to flooding, however, it is possible for flooding to occur in areas with unusually long periods of heavy rainfall. In Australia, floods usually occur on inland rivers such as those found in central Western Australia, central and western Queensland and parts of New South Wales.
Roads are not always safe to use during and after a flood. Water can fill up drainage and sewer pipes quite quickly and eventually come out over the roads, making them un-roadworthy to drive on. To solve this issue, more storage area is required to hold the water because the soil has a certain permeability limit.
Plastic roads have a unique design that can store water. The gap in the prefabrication allows water to seep in, but more importantly, it can hold the water till the ground is water to absorb the water out.
Maintenance is an ongoing procedure that costs millions of dollars each year. Road requires yearly spring clean-up, pothole refill, resurfacing due to main types of road failures:
- Bleeding or flushing
- Corrugations and shoving
- Alligator cracking
- Edge cracking
- Longitudinal joint cracking
- Reflection cracking
As road ages, they become unsuitable for traffic. This is due to the properties of the asphalt that is unable to perform. Maintenance can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Plastic roads could possibly address these three points. They are relatively cheap due to its recycling profile, quick and easy to install because segments exist in segments.
Plastic roads are prefabricated which means they can be offsite and brought to the required location. As they are made from plastic, segments are light and easy to transport. A simple load truck can be used to with forklifts or crane arms to unload the material.
Changing broken segments
IF a segment is broken, it can easily be removed and replace with the same equipment mentioned in the last paragraph. Removed sections can be recycled to produced new segments for construction.
Plastic road contents
The recycled plastic used in the segments will undergo polymer structure change. The reason for this is to provide a stronger stricter that is capable of withstanding motor vehicle weight and movement.
This process of creating a structure can be quite difficult as the road segments need many different properties. Plastic is known to deform and rot under UV conditions. As these segments will be exposed to sunlight on an everyday basis, it is essential that it is resilient in sunny hot weather.
Friction is an important factor to keep vehicles from sliding off the intended pathway. The surface must be shaped to produce medium friction, enough to keep the vehicle from sliding, but not enough to prevent turning. It is also important to produce a road that does not require the reinvention of vehicle tires as road users will be less inclined to support the idea plastic roads.
Some plastics are expandable. We creating plastic roads, it is important not to retain this property. If roads were to expand, they would be hazardous to road users. Reinforced fiber can be added to keep the contents from expanding due to tension.
Plastics are already strong, but this also means that they are hard to compress. Manufacturing may prove to be difficult or expensive because of the large amounts of energy required. The design polymer must soften plastic during the production phase to lessen the energy consumption.
Asphalt roads and bitumen roads have high-cost due to production cost. The cost of labor and machine hours make up most of the cost of roads. The material itself, road base, spray seals and asphalt does not actually cost that much. Substituting the asphalt with the plastic road will not reduce the cost of the road but it will reduce the cost of disposing of plastic waste.
The idea of plastic roads is new and innovative. It provides a method to use recycled plastics, hence giving our trash a secondary purpose. Our planet has an over welling amount of plastic waste and only limited ways to produce recycled items. By slowly replacing currently broken roads with plastic roads, it will easy society into the idea of plastic roads. Alternatively, new roads can substitute asphalt with plastic roads.
Plastic roads have many benefits that outperform asphalt roads. Prefabrication is one of the biggest selling factors. Roads can be premade and distributed when needed. Hence reducing the amount of construction time. Plastics have many properties that roads should have. For example, plastics have a long lifespan. If roads were to last as long as plastic, it would decrease the long-term cost. Plastic roads will be able to drain water efficiently, hence very practical in coastal areas or will heavy rainfall. Plastic roads will also mitigate the current maintenance required for an asphalt road.
The idea of plastic roads requires more research. On a molecular level, the substance needs to be strong yet versatile during fabrication stages. Reason being, plastic is difficult to compress hence a large amount of energy is required. The resultant product needs to have substantial friction property and resistant to UV lighting. The road also requires to be sturdy and not expand in all weathering conditions.
Cost is the largest factor in the construction industry. But environmental factors are also just as important. By adopting plastic roads, companies will support recycling regime hence becoming the preferred contractor choice.