Los Angeles is a driving city, with millions of residents hitting the road every day. As such, many of the city’s streets are quite well-worn, to put it nicely. Los Angeles is also, like many other cities, struggling with reducing its plastic consumption—a bill attempting to partially phase out single-use plastics was rejected by lawmakers in September, all the while recyclable plastics are primarily ending up in landfills. But there’s a new solution on the horizon to fix the streets with the plastic that litters them. The City of Los Angeles has partnered with landscape product company Technisoil on a plan to pave roads with a new material called “plastic asphalt.” As one might expect, it’s a surfacing material that uses an oil made from shredded plastic waste as its binder. The first test site of the product has already been selected: the intersection of West First Street and North Grand Avenue, right in front of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is set to be paved with the new material before the end of the year.
Beyond being a practical second life for plastic waste, the plastic asphalt is actually more effective than regular asphalt, reportedly being six to seven times stronger, as well as being much more cost-efficient. “We’re looking at a potential 25% reduction in our production cost,” Keith Mozee, assistant director at the Department of Street Services in Los Angeles, told Los Angeles Magazine. “And if it is successful, it will cut down on our maintenance costs as well, because we’ll have to go back fewer times to pave the street.”
Plastic asphalt is not brand-new technology—it’s already used in India, and a road on the campus of the University of California, San Diego was paved with the material last year. But this test patch in Los Angeles marks the material’s first use in a major U.S. city.
“This is an exciting technology and a sustainable technology,” Mozee told The Architect’s Newspaper. “And it’s something that we believe going forward could be game-changing if we deploy on a large scale.”