State hopes plastic paves the way to a new roadway solution

An Ewa Beach roadway will soon be littered with trash quite literally.
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 5:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Ewa Beach roadway will soon be littered with trash — quite literally.

Instead of pollution, it’s part of a new state pilot project that repurposes plastic waste into a new asphalt surface.

“We’re just looking at the equivalent of saving about 195,000 plastic bottles by using plastic in our ac mix,” said Ed Sniffen, State Department of Transportation Highways Division deputy director.

“It’s just a small piece of what we’re targeting because we want to make sure we get this technology to be usable by anybody else before moving forward with infrastructure of this kind,” Sniffen said.

The Department of Transportation laid the groundwork Tuesday for a two-year plastic road pilot project at the end of Fort Weaver Road.

The surface looks like traditional asphalt concrete, but upon closer review, plastic pellets are mixed-in with aim at helping reduce carbon emissions.

“Mechanical recycling — taking a plastic product and turning it into something else is the lowest greenhouse gas emission option for disposal of plastics,” Dr. Jennifer Lynch, who works with the Hawaii Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research.

“So that’s really a major benefit for the environment if we can make this happen.”

The plastic roads are already in parts of the mainland and the early indication is its durable structurally.

But for the next 2 years, the University of Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific University will be monitoring how it holds up and whether it cooperates with the environment.

“After several months has gone by, after traffic has run on it and the Hawaii environment has heated it and weathered it, we’ll be collecting storm water off of the road and looking for microplastic quantities and the plastic additive chemicals,” Lynch explained.

Right now, the plastic being used is coming from the mainland.

However, if the project is a success, the hope is Hawaii could process its own waste and help pave the way for a green and lasting solution.

“The overall goal is to make sure you don’t know any difference when you drive on this,” Sniffen said. “You just know you have a really good road that lasts a long time. You don’t know that we put all of our trash into it. You don’t know that we pulled this out of our landfills and out of our oceans to ensure we keep everything cleaner for everybody.”