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  • Writer's pictureLara Birkes

Rethinking Roads

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

Can necessity be the mother of invention?

View down a dirt road that leads into a mountain valley with a dusky sky

Recycling is a problem in Montana, and the West more broadly. Vast distances from processing centers in our rural communities, increasing transportation costs and reduced demand equate to fewer and fewer outlets for salvaging waste.

As a result we’re seeing recycling facilities close, though our waste is not decreasing, our landfills are just filling faster. A recent piece in the Great Falls Tribune touches on the severity of the problem while highlighting the great work of Recycle Our Waste Lewistown (ROWL), a local non-profit in landlocked Montana that recycles plastic waste.

So what’s the scalable solution? We need to consider demand driven, innovation inspired approaches. And this may lie in roads.

I take inspiration from UK based MacRebur. This plastic road company is bringing new meaning to recycling by mixing plastic waste with asphalt to improve roads while removing unwanted plastics from landfills, oceans and waterways. It also happens to be longer lasting, more resilient and cost effective. What a great idea, plus its “pothole proof” – imagine!

A similarly creative approach has been employed in India with fisherman extracting plastic from the ocean, shredding it and using for road surfacing. And the cost is about 8% less per half-mile than a conventional road.

In Australia a recent initiative includes not only plastics, but also glass and ink cartridges to build roads. It’s estimated just under a mile of a two-lane road paved with this modified asphalt repurposes 530,000 plastic bags, 168,000 glass bottles and 12,500 used print cartridges.

Great stats knowing that only 9% of plastic is recycled in the US, and that it takes an average of 450 years to decompose, whereas glass takes an incredible 1 million years to succumb to the elements. Is glassphalt in our future?

All these factors, combined with China’s new ban on nonindustrial plastic waste, make this a great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the magnificent mountain West. Imagine driving through our National Parks, along Interstate 90 or by the Yellowstone River on up-cycled roads comprised of diverted waste.

It’s achievable, so here’s a call to action for the great talent in Big Sky Country. To our innovative leaders, business schools and purpose driven investors: let’s solve this local challenge with local solutions!


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