Caltrans Repaves Roadway with Recycled Plastic Bottles

This Marks The First Time The Department Has Paved A Road Using 100% Recycled Materials.

By Mark S. Kuhar

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) repaved a section of Highway 162 in Oroville, Calif., using recycled asphalt pavement and liquid plastic made with single-use, plastic bottles – the first time the department has paved a road using 100% recycled materials.

road being paved

The pilot project featured work on three lanes of a 1,000-ft. highway segment. The department is testing the material for later use throughout the state. A one-mile segment of pavement using this treatment will recycle 150,000 plastic bottles.

“This pilot project underscores the department’s commitment to embracing innovative and cost-effective technologies while advancing sustainability and environmental protection efforts,” said Toks Omishakin, Caltrans director.

The “plastic” roadway has been found in previous tests to be more durable and last two to three times longer than traditional hot-mixed asphalt pavement. This pilot was be the first test on a state highway.

“California has set ambitious goals for recycling and other environmental priorities, and meeting them requires innovative and cost-effective solutions,” said Sen. Ben Hueso (D-40), who has advocated for Caltrans to test this material. “Using waste plastic that was otherwise destined for a landfill will not only reduce the cost of road repair and construction, but also increase the strength and durability of our roads. As a leader on environmental justice issues, California is uniquely positioned to transform the transportation industry once again by using this new technology that could revolutionize the way we look at recycled plastic.”

road being paved

Caltrans currently has a cold in-place asphalt recycling program that uses large machines to remove 3 to 6 in. of roadway surface and grind up the asphalt while mixing it with a foamed binding agent made of bitumen, the leftover sludge from oil refining. However, the recycled material used in this process is only durable enough to serve as the roadway base. Trucks need to deliver hot-mix asphalt from a production plant miles away and place a final layer over the base.

Using this new technology developed by TechniSoil Industrial of Redding, Calif., a recycling train of equipment grinds up the top 3 in. of pavement and then mixes the grindings with a liquid plastic polymer binder, which comes from a high amount of recycled, single-use bottles. The new asphalt material is then placed on the top surface of the roadway, eliminating the need for trucks to bring in outside material for a paving operation. By eliminating the need to haul asphalt from the outside, this process can significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re excited about introducing a new sustainable technology and helping pave the way for utilization of recycled plastics throughout the state,” said Caltrans District 3 Director Amarjeet S. Benipal. “This process is better for the environment because it keeps plastic bottles out of landfills and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.”

The $3.2 million paving project covers a stretch of Highway 162 between the Feather River and Christian Avenue in Oroville. Lamon Construction Co. Inc. of Yuba City was the prime contractor.

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