The 1967 film “The Graduate” may have said it best: “There's a great future in plastics.”
Adidas is making shoes and swimsuits with recycled ocean plastic, refugees are building shelters with plastic bottles, and in Haiti women are turning plastic bottles into ink cartridges.
Now, India is building roads with recycled plastic. And for the past five years, one part of the Indian subcontinent has been leading the way.
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According to One Green Planet, the region of Tamil Nadu, in southern India, has turned more than 1,600 tons of waste plastic into 620 miles (or roughly 1,000 kilometers) of roads in the past five years.
The roads are laid with a combination of shredded plastic waste and tar, a process that’s half as costly as traditional asphalt-laying, Carbonated.tv reports.
“In order to ensure a plastic-free environment, road laying in corporations and municipalities is being done on plastic waste technology,” Municipal Administration Minister S P Velumani told the state assembly in June.
This initiative falls in line with the Indian government’s “Clean India,” or Swachh Bharat, plan, the Guardian reports. Swachh Bharat aims, among other things, to end open defecation throughout the country and deliver clean water to 90% of India’s rural population.
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But India’s plastic road-building initiative actually predates Swachh Bharat. One of the country’s first plastic roads was built in 2002, in Chennai, a city in Tamil Nadu. Fifteen years later, the road, Jambulingam Street, “has yet to show any signs of wear and tear that typical roads tend to, such as cracks and potholes,” according to Oxy Chennai.
Throughout India, an estimated 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) of road has been constructed with recycled plastic, with a large majority of these plastic roads in rural areas.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the country intends to double down on its plastic road vision. Last November, the government mandated that new road construction throughout the country must use waste plastic.
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India, which is responsible for more than 15% of the world’s traffic fatalities, certainly hopes this solution can usher in a safer, healthier, and of course cleaner India.