The government has finally figured out how to fix two of its biggest problems in one shot — bad roads and the mountains of plastic waste that continue to build up every day.

Two birds, one stone: Like this road in Jamshedpur, roads in Maharashtra too will be built from plastic waste and tar mix. Besides reducing the city’s waste problem, it will also lead to lasting roads.
Two birds, one stone: Like this road in Jamshedpur, roads in Maharashtra too will be built from plastic waste and tar mix. Besides reducing the city’s waste problem, it will also lead to lasting roads. 

Unlike our roads, plastic can take decades to break down — an issue that has led to mountains of plastic waste piling up at landfills. So much so that last year, the Supreme Court said we are sitting on a plastic time bomb. But use this very plastic to build roads, and they take on the same superpowers: water-resistance and longevity. Thanks to a Government Resolution passed yesterday, today’s plastic bag could turn into a highway tomorrow.

Following the GR’s directive, the Maharashtra Public Works Department (PWD) will now use a mix of plastic waste and tar to build roads in and around municipal towns across the state. The move is expected to manage plastic that cannot be recycled and hence causes irreparable damage to environment. The decision will also be implemented in Mumbai, where the PWD controls several roads, flyovers and viaducts. The city produces a high quantum of waste plastic that can be easily used with bituminous mixes for surfacing roads. What’s more, this waste can be easily sourced from ragpickers or civic facilities such as waste segregation centres and dumping grounds, said a senior officer in PWD’s Mantralaya office.

In February, the PWD had asked all its divisional chief engineers to experiment with plastic waste in surfacing at least one road in their jurisdiction. However, in Mumbai, several agencies maintain roads. The BMC has more road length than any other agency, including the PWD, MMRDA and MSRDC.

Success in Mumbai
Interestingly, the BMC had already started experimenting with the plastic mix two years ago, when it resurfaced a 100-metre patch of JK Sawant Marg in Dadar (west) using waste plastic. This was the first road in Mumbai to be constructed using the environment-friendly mix. Waste plastic such as tyres and materials generated in that municipal ward was used there. “This patch is in good condition even after two monsoons and it is fit to brave the rains this year as well,” said assistant municipal commissioner Sharad Ughade, who came up with the idea and executed it.

Ughade said that the initiative, if taken large scale, will also save a lot of money. “It not only saves on construction material, but also saves the money administration spends on carting waste plastic to dumping yards. What is important to note is that we use waste plastic that is generated within the locality itself,” he said.

The BMC will also discuss making the plastic mix a norm for road construction in a meeting on June 21. Civic corporator (ward 21) Ramashish Gupta, who has tabled the proposal, is hopeful of getting it approved in the house.

“My basic argument is about protecting environment and saving road construction costs. I don’t think there will be any opposition from political parties or from the commissioner, whose final nod is required for implementation,” Gupta told mid-day.

Government Resolution
The GR states that the decision to use plastic waste to build roads was taken after PM Narendra Modi suggested that it had succeeded in many places across the country. “In the Pragati Video Conference with chief secretaries (of all states) on May 25, PM said that the quality of road construction had increased because of mixing of waste plastic with tar. He also said that this helped in resolving plastic waste manage-ment considerably,” said the GR.

Quality control
PWD engineers have been asked to undertake work in municipal regions that have populations over 2 lakh and use the plastic mix to build roads in a 50-km periphery around these towns. Inspecting these roads every three months is mandatory, along with submission of a quality control report after a year of construction.