First road in Estonia paved with plastic asphalt

Construction workers laying plastic asphalt on Narva mnt.
Construction workers laying plastic asphalt on Narva mnt. Source: Liisi Treier

Estonia's first piece of asphalt made from plastic was laid on Wednesday in Tallinn, an innovation that was made in Scotland but inspired by a trip to India.

A trial section 75 meters long and 3 meters wide has been laid on Narva mnt on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese Embassy, as part of the Reidi tee development. It is the first of its kind in Northern and Eastern Europe. 

Gordon Reid, from Scotland, the inventor of plastic pavement, was on scene to watch the construction work. He told ERR the idea came from a friend of his who had been to India and had seen how the garbage could be used.

"He saw litter pickers on a landfill site, taking waste plastics from landfill and putting them into potholes, melting them down and then they form a pothole patcher. So when he came back from India he got together with myself - I'm a civil engineer - and another of my colleagues who is into waste management and together we came up with a product we could incorporate into asphalt," he said.

Reid said by adding plastic the amount of bitumen that needs to be added to the asphalt is less. As bitumen is a product of the oil industry, this means fewer fossil fuels can be consumed when making asphalt in the future and saving carbon "along the way".

After a year of intensive testing, the plastic asphalt started to be used in road projects three years ago.

In Estonia, attempts have been made in the past to put wood, glass and everything else into the road asphalt, said Veiko Veskimäe, CEO of Verston Ehitus, who laid the asphalt. "But none of these initiatives have gone far. Plastics certainly have much greater potential because it is a huge problem for society as a whole."

Describing the process he said plastic is added to bitumen, followed by a so-called accelerator or additive which glues everything together. "Basically, they melt into the bitumen at high temperatures, and that's what the whole technological process is about," Veskimäe added.

"We have a special blend of polymers. Everything comes from plastic waste. They are mixed into the asphalt mix at the asphalt production site. There, the asphalt is made and then laid on our roads," Reid said.

About 5,000 plastic bottles will be crushed to cover the 75-meter stretch of road with plastic asphalt.

Veskimägi confirmed that they plan to follow this strip of road throughout the winter to see how it works in the Estonian environment and how it can withstand the conditions. "We do a lot of testing here, test it after it is applied, observe how it behaves when it is created, and of course we talk to various public and private agencies."

Reid said he believes the asphalt will be successful in Estonia, saying: "We've been laying roads with it in Canada and Switzerland where the climates are relatively similar. So there is no reason at all why it won't work in Estonia."


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Editor: Helen Wright

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