Hawaii DOT wants plastic waste to hit the road

The Hawaii Department of Transportation is moving forward on two fronts to transform plastic water bottles from beach-littering ‘ōpala’ or rubbish to recycled road material.

[Above photo by the Hawaii DOT]

Engineers are testing an asphalt mix with recycled plastic polymer on a 1.2-mile road segment in Honolulu to see how well it holds up in Hawaii’s tropical environment.

Meanwhile, Hawaii DOT is using an FHWA Climate Challenge Initiative grant to help finance its own $6 million plastic recycling research facility to turn plastic waste into road polymer and other useful transportation products.

The pilot project is the southern end of Fort Weaver Road; a two-lane bi-directional road with that carries 6,200 vehicles per day on average. The roadway was “perfect for the pilot” because the base structure was in good condition, but the wearing recourse required “significant rehabilitation or replacement,” said Ed Sniffen, Hawaii DOT’s deputy director of highways.

He explained that the agency plans to divide the roadway segment into three sections: the control section, which will be composed exclusively of Polymer Modified Asphalt or PMA; a second section incorporating plastic into the PMA; and a third section adding plastic to traditional ‘Hot Mix’ asphalt.

Once construction is finished in July 2023, researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and Hawaii Pacific University will evaluate the three sections for performance and the potential of the material to release microplastics into the environment.

“Even though we’re using a material that has been used on roads in the United States for over five years, we need to make sure the mix is right for Hawaii and our environment,” Sniffen said.

Anticipating that the pilot project will be a success, Hawaii DOT already is planning the state’s first plastic recycling facility, expected to be operational within two years.

The facility will use plastic waste found in the Pacific Ocean to manufacture pellets for roadway use, Sniffen noted, “then could potentially move into creating plastic products for other infrastructure like plastic reinforcing materials for concrete.”

That is important for Hawaii because it must import plastic pellets from the mainland while it has an overabundance of hometown plastic that serves no useful purpose.

“Keeping our own waste plastic out of landfills in a manner that will improve our roads and environment will be a tremendous benefit to everyone in Hawaii,” Sniffen added.

Several other state departments of transportation are engaged in similar plastic recycling efforts.

In November 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wrapped up a pilot project that used plastic pellets made from grocery bags, milk jugs, and other recyclable plastics in an asphalt reconstruction project.

The pellets were added to the asphalt that covered two quarter-mile test sections of the project at the entrance to Ridley Creek State Park, about 15 miles west of Philadelphia.

In December 2021, the Illinois Department of Transportation started working with the Illinois Center for Transportation to develop more “sustainable pavement practices,” which include ways to incorporate more recycled materials such as plastic into asphalt mixes.

Both are working on a joint project – dubbed “R27-196-HS: Rheology-Chemical Based Procedure to Evaluate Additives/Modifiers Used in Asphalt Binders for Performance Enhancements: Phase 2” – to investigate methods to “soften” asphalt binder to reduce pavement cracking.

Tennessee’s ‘Tire to Trails’ Program Wins Award

The Tennessee State Parks received the Project Excellence Award from the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals for its “Tires to Trails” conducted in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which uses recycled tires in the construction of recreation paths.

[Above photo by the Tennessee DOT]

The Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals presents this award annually to exemplary outdoor recreation projects and collaborating agencies and organizations that were key to the success. Selection criteria include unique or special circumstances; problem-solving function; level of innovation and creativity; impact or effect of a project; and collaborative team effort.

“This is a wonderful recognition of an outstanding program,” said David Salyers, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, in a statement.

“We have seen great success with ‘Tires to Trails’ and the award is a tribute to all who have worked to make it successful,” he said.

Tennessee State Parks officials, along with those from the Tennessee DOT, cut the ribbon in June on a new hard-surface 2.5-mile-long pathway made from rubber crumbs derived from old tires at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis.

Volunteers and local contractors collected some 24,000 illegally dumped tires in the area around the park, transformed into “crumbs” by Patriot Tire Recycling in Bristol. That “crumb” material then went into the construction of the park trail.

This is but one of several environmentally focused projects involving the Tennessee DOT. The agency recently expanded its “traditional role” in the Mississippi River Delta Region from building and maintaining roads to include fighting litter, supporting tourism, and promoting economic development. In addition, in conjunction with the Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and other partners, the agency established a network of 17 “Seabin” automated litter and debris removal devices across the Tennessee River watershed in March.

Louisiana DOTD Wins Award for Brine Management

Scott Boyle (seen above), assistant administrator of operations for District 2 of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, recently received an award on behalf of his district’s handling of brine disposal.

[Above photo by the Louisiana DOTD. Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng (at left) presents a ‘Certificate of Merit’ to Louisiana DOTD’s Scott Boyle.]

Louisiana DOTD’s District 2 received the 2022 Environmental Leadership Award from the Jefferson Parish Department of Environmental Affairs for its efforts to dispose of excess brine used in winter road clearing operations to minimize the impact on the local water table.

In January, in preparation for an anticipated ice storm in the greater New Orleans area, Louisiana DOTD produced nearly 1,800 gallons of brine to combat ice on the region’s most critical roads and bridges. However, once the weather event was over, a surplus of brine remained.

“In the past, we have tried to store the brine in stationary tanks, but algae growth and the degradation of the solution from heat and sunlight prevented us from re-using the brine for future winter events,” said Boyle in a statement. “Knowing that this material needed to be disposed of responsibly, we contacted the Jefferson Parish Storm Water Management team for guidance.”

Louisiana DOTD then worked with the Jefferson Parish Bridge City Wastewater Treatment Plant – located next to District 2’s headquarters – to dispose of the brine. The mixture was disposed of on a drying bed located on the treatment plant property, filtering out a portion of the salt before introducing the salted water into the plant slowly so it would not shock or upset the wastewater treatment process.

According to Jefferson Parish, these awards recognize those individuals, businesses, or organizations that strive for environmental leadership through programs and actions that improve stormwater quality and/or quantity, thereby reducing the amount of pollution that enters Jefferson Parish waterways.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be recognized for our partnership with Jefferson Parish as [Louisiana] DOTD ensures that we are doing our part to improve our surrounding waterway quality,” Boyle said. “Actions can have significant impacts on the region that we love to live and play in.”

Tennessee DOT Helping Deploy ‘Seabins’ for River Cleanup

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has teamed up with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful (KTRB) and other partners to establish a network of 17 “Seabin” automated litter and debris removal devices across the Tennessee River watershed.

[Above photo by the Seabin Project]

Seabin devices work continuously to skim and collect marine debris from the surface of the water. Each receptacle can remove up to 3,000 pounds of marine debris annually, while also filtering out gasoline, oils, and “micro-plastics” from the water.

Grants from the Tennessee DOT and the national Keep America Beautiful organization provided the funds supporting this deployment of the Seabin devices.

The Tennessee DOT’s contribution includes the purchase and installation of 10 devices at locations throughout Tennessee, as well as funding for two years of water-based cleanups of the river and its tributaries within the state – funding made in conjunction with the agency’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” litter prevention campaign.

“[Our] partnership with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful demonstrates the link between roadside litter and debris that ends up in our waterways,” explained Joseph Galbato, Tennessee DOT interim commissioner, in a statement. “Investing in this substantial network of litter removal devices is another example of how TDOT promotes innovative solutions to making our state cleaner and keeping our waterways clear.”

In addition to the 17 Seabins deployed in Tennessee, another two will deploy on the Tennessee River in Alabama, with one other placed on one of the river’s tributaries in North Carolina.

“Until now, all of our work has only been able to prevent micro-plastics in our waterways, so we are thrilled to the Tennessee DOT and Keep America Beautiful for these – as I see it – revolutionary grants and to our partners who will be maintaining the Seabins to make this trailblazing project possible,” added Kathleen Gibi, KTRB’s executive director.

The Tennessee DOT is an agency known for funding different and innovative ways to reduce littering.

For example, in April 2021, the agency helped fund a pair of new exhibits at the Tennessee Aquarium illustrate how micro-plastics and other roadside trash can negatively affect the health of the ocean as well as rivers, lakes, and streams.

The new exhibits – housed in the Aquarium’s “River Journey” and supporting the Tennessee DOT’s “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” litter reduction campaign – include actual debris taken from the banks of the Tennessee River: the focus of its current Seabin deployment project.

NCDOT Providing Material for Artificial Reefs

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is providing more than 1,000 tons of damaged concrete pipe to help the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries shore up two artificial reefs.

[Above photo by NCDOT]

NCDOT sent those discarded culverts – which accumulated over the past several years as the result of an aggressive pipe replacement program in part due to damage caused by recent hurricanes – to the Port of Wilmington for eventual deployment off of the Brunswick County coast.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries – part of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality – maintains several artificial reefs that create habitat for fish and ideal fishing sites.

It said artificial reefs create habitat for fish by creating three-dimensional structures that replicate the ecological functions of food and refuge fish and other marine life need to survive and create “crucial” spawning and foraging habitat for many commercially and recreationally important fish species.   

The fisheries division has been working with NCDOT to find “new and cost-effective uses” for scrapped concrete pipe. Using that piping to build artificial reefs for marine life along the state’s coastline in a money saver, the agency noted – eliminating $65,000 in tipping fees to dispose of it in a construction and demolition landfill.

Ken Clark, an NCDOT district engineer, said the idea for donating the pipe arose during a conference for coastal resiliency. That is when he discovered the state’s marine fisheries division could repurpose his stockpile of precast concrete, barreled-shaped pipe to augment existing artificial reefs. 

“We had considered many options on how to properly dispose of this unusable material when we formed this unique collaboration with the Division of Marine Fisheries last year,” he explained in a statement. “This program mutually benefits both state agencies.”

Other state departments of transportation are involved in similar artificial reef construction projects.

For example, in 2020, the New York State Department of Transportation began helping expand a series of artificial reefs off the shores of Long Island as part of a three-year-long multiagency effort – dumping a retired tugboat, 16 rail cars, and a streel turbine on Hempstead Reef.

“[We are] proud to work with our sister agencies on this important program, repurposing transportation materials to expand artificial reefs and support biodiversity, fishing, and tourism,” explained Marie Therese Dominguez, NYSDOT’s commissioner, in a statement at the time.

“It is another example of how [our state] is taking bold steps to protect our ecosystems and foster sustainable economic growth that will benefit current and future generations of New Yorkers,” she said.

PennDOT Turning Plastic Waste into Roadway Surface Material

For several weeks now, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has been dumping plastic waste onto the roadway near a state park – and that is actually a good thing.

[Above photo by PennDOT]

PennDOT is wrapping up a pilot project that uses pellets (seen in above photo) made from grocery bags, milk jugs, and other recyclable plastics in an asphalt reconstruction project. The pellets are being added to the asphalt in two quarter-mile test sections of the project at the entrance to Ridley Creek State Park, about 15 miles west of Philadelphia.

The expected benefits from this project – due to wrap up by the end of November – include diverting waste plastics from landfills, helping to establish a market for recycled plastics, and extending the useful life of asphalt pavements.

“We are very pleased when we can pursue innovations bringing benefits to the public, our transportation assets, and our environment,” Mike Keiser, PennDOT’s acting deputy secretary for highway administration, explained in a recent news release.

Mike Keiser, PennDOT

The pellets are comprised of high-density and low-density polyethylene – known colloquially as Number 2 and 4 plastics, respectively – plus an additive. Common Number 2 plastic products include milk jugs, shampoo bottles, and some plastic toys. Number 4 plastics, by contrast, are lighter and best known for making grocery bags, shrink-wrap, and bread bags to package.

[Click here to learn more about how to recycle different types of plastic.]

First, those pellets are mixed together with recycled asphalt pavement or RAP, which is then heated and applied to the road surface. The entire process is “relatively consistent with conventional pavement preparation processes,” noted PennDOT Press Secretary Alexis Campbell.

The amount of pellet material can vary from job to job, usually comprising two to four percent of the asphalt binder, Campbell said. If a project uses the maximum amount of pellet material in an application, that can translate to up to three million plastic grocery bags per mile paved.

As PennDOT evaluates the project for performance and environmental properties, it is also looking for other suitable roadway locations for testing “plastic asphalt,” Campbell said.

The agency added that this pilot project is coordinated through PennDOT’s Strategic Recycling Program, funded through the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Maryland Approves Effort to Turn Port Dredging Material into Concrete Barriers

Governor Larry Hogan (R) and the Maryland Board of Public Works recently approved contracts with two Maryland companies to make bricks, pavers, concrete highway barriers, and shoreline supports – among other structures – from the dredged material cleared from one of the Port of Baltimore’s shipping channels.

[Photo courtesy of the Port of Baltimore.]

“We’ve used this sediment for years to rebuild islands, create wildlife habitats and reinforce shorelines,” explained Greg Slater, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, in a statement. “These new proposals could lead to new and innovative reuse of dredged materials to benefit the community and the environment.”

The Maryland Port Administration – a division of the Maryland DOT – explained that dredge sediment is regularly cleared from shipping channels to provide easier ship navigation. In the past, the dredge sediment byproduct helped restore Hart-Miller Island in Baltimore County and Poplar Island in Talbot County, with the Barren and James islands in Dorchester County currently slated for reconstruction over the next several years using dredged sediment.

“The Maryland Port Administration is known for its innovative use of dredged material to restore land and create environmental assets,” noted Governor Hogan in a separate statement. “Dredging is necessary for the Port of Baltimore to accommodate the huge ships that deliver cargo and grow our economy.

Photo courtesy of the Port of Baltimore

Pending permits, restoration at Barren Island could begin in 2022, with the James Island following in 2024. The Maryland DOT said those projects – conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – would deposit an estimated 90 million to 95 million cubic yards of dredged sediment at James Island, providing at least 30 years of capacity. Meanwhile, Barren Island would accept sediment from nearby shallow-draft channels.

“Our experience working with the Army Corps of Engineers at Poplar Island gives us great optimism for what we can accomplish together at Mid-Chesapeake Bay,” Maryland DOT Secretary Slater said. “This restoration will rebuild two vanishing islands and help protect Maryland’s critical shorelines. It also demonstrates, yet again, how dredged material can be a valuable resource to support the [Chesapeake] Bay environment and the men and women working at [Baltimore’s] port.”

William Doyle, director of the Maryland Port Administration, added that the new contracts seeking to turn dredged material into other structural products would help further its sediment-recycling efforts. “We’re excited to partner with these companies to test the ability to reuse sediment for productive purposes,” he explained. “This allows us to continue removing dredged sediment from our channels to maintain the 50-foot depth needed to accommodate the supersized vessels that bring cargo and jobs to the Port of Baltimore while recycling that sediment to use again in other ways – a real win-win.”

Virginia DOT Launches Second Major Anti-Litter Initiative

The Virginia Department of Transportation recently began its second major anti-littering effort on December 7 – the Beautify Virginia program – that is part of its support for keeping Virginia’s roadways litter-free.

[Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Transportation.]

Through the new Beautify Virginia program – which is part of the agency’s broader Environmental Stewardship Initiative – the Virginia DOT said it seeks to engage community and civic organizations, businesses, non-profit companies, and residents that can sponsor litter pickups along segments of eligible highways and interstates, with an approved contractor performing the work on their behalf. To support this effort, the agency will place signage with the respective sponsor’s name and official logo along the sponsored roadways. 

“Across Virginia’s transportation sector, we are integrating environmental stewardship and creating sustainable policies that support mobility, access, and our quality of life,” explained Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, in a statement. “Investing in safe, healthy communities is our commitment to all who call Virginia home.” 

“The value of the partnerships created by the Beautify Virginia program is twofold,” added Rob Cary, Virginia DOT’s chief deputy commissioner. “There is value in forging new and sustaining existing relationships within our communities and also in leveraging the strength of those relationships to serve as good stewards of our environment.” 

The Beautify Virginia program follows the Virginia is for Lovers, Not Litter public outreach campaign launched by the agency in September to raise awareness about Virginia’s roadway litter problem. The Virginia DOT noted that it spends nearly $3.5 million annually to remove litter from Virginia’s roadways, with more than half of that litter coming from motorists with another 25 percent from pedestrians.

Georgia DOT Launches New Anti-Litter Campaign

The Georgia Department of Transportation is launching a new anti-litter campaign – called “Keep It Clean Georgia” – focused on preventing and eliminating litter along 50,000 miles of interstates and state routes that crisscross Georgia.

[Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Transportation.]

The agency said it plans work with individuals, businesses, environmental organizations, and state agencies like the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation via this new campaign to emphasize the importance of litter prevention and highlight the role teamwork plays in maintaining Georgia’s natural beauty.

It’s also an effort aimed at saving money, as the agency said the average American produces five pounds of trash each day, which plays a part in the nearly $11.5 billion spent on litter clean-up in the United States each year.

“We are excited to support Georgia DOT’s efforts with the Keep It Clean Georgia campaign and encourage all Georgians to do their part to help the Peach State remain a place we are proud to call home,” said Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R), in a statement.

“The Keep It Clean Georgia campaign is intended to motivate Georgians to think twice about throwing trash where it doesn’t belong and to take an active role in preserving Georgia’s beauty,” added Russell McMurry, Georgia DOT’s commissioner. “Whether your home is a wide-open countryside or in one of Georgia’s bustling city centers, litter is everyone’s problem and as a community we can work together to keep our beautiful state clean and litter-free.”

Other state departments of transportation are also ramping up their anti-litter activities:

  • The Virginia Department of Transportation recently launched Virginia is for Lovers, Not Litter in September – a public outreach campaign aimed at raising awareness about Virginia’s roadway litter problem. The agency said it spends nearly $3.5 million annually to remove litter from Virginia’s roadways, with more than half of that litter coming from motorists with another 25 percent from pedestrians.
  • The Alabama Department of Transportation initiated an anti-litter campaign entitled “Trash Costs Cash” in early August. That campaign uses television, radio stations, and social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube to highlight a major increase in litter fines and penalties authorized by the state legislature in 2019.
  • The Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, and Keep Tennessee Beautiful recently joined forces to reduce personal protective equipment or PPE litter during the COVID-19 pandemic, while highlighting the proper ways to dispose of PPE and facemasks.
  • The California Department of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol resumed litter removal on state highways in mid-June; cleanup activity that has been limited since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NYSDOT Helps Expand Artificial Reef off Long Island

The New York State Department of Transportation is helping expand a series of artificial reefs off the shores of Long Island as part of a three-year long multiagency effort. In September, the agency helped dump a retired tugboat, 16 rail cars, and a streel turbine on Hempstead Reef – the first of multiple “reef deployments” scheduled for 2020.

[Photo courtesy of New York State DOT.]

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo

In his 2020 State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) committed to doubling New York’s existing reef acreage by expanding seven of 12 existing sites and creating four new artificial reefs in Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean – an expansion expected to be complete by 2022.

“[We are] proud to work with our sister agencies on this important program, repurposing transportation materials to expand artificial reefs and support biodiversity, fishing, and tourism,” explained Marie Therese Dominguez, NYSDOT’s commissioner, in a statement.

“It is another example of how [our state] is taking bold steps to protect our ecosystems and foster sustainable economic growth that will benefit current and future generations of New Yorkers,” she said.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation or DEC manages the state’s 12 artificial reefs, which include two reefs in Long Island Sound, two in the Great South Bay, and eight in the Atlantic Ocean. The 413-acre Atlantic Beach Reef is located three nautical miles south of Atlantic Beach with a depth of 55 to 64 feet. One of the first reefs created in New York, this reef was previously comprised of two vessels, nine barges, surplus armored vehicles, 404 auto bodies, 10 Good Humor trucks, steel crane and boom, rock, concrete slabs, pipes, culvert, decking, and rubble.

Moving forward, recycled materials from NYSDOT, New York Power Authority/Canal Corporation, and the Thruway Authority – among other public and private partners – are being put to new use to develop New York’s artificial reef sites.

The types of materials deployed onto the reefs from the NYSDOT over the last year include old concrete highway barriers, steel girders with concrete tops from the Staten Island Expressway, and 15 steel pipes from the old Kosciuszko Bridge; replaced by a new structure that opened in 2019.

Photo courtesy of New York State DOT

The DEC said those materials are then “strategically placed” to expand the reef, with the agency overseeing the cleaning of contaminants from recycled reef materials to mitigate potential impacts to sea life before being deployed to the reef sites. Once materials and vessels settle to the seafloor, larger fish – such as blackfish, black sea bass, cod, and summer flounder – move in to inhabit the new structures, and encrusting organisms such as barnacles, sponges, anemones, corals, and mussels cling to and cover the material. Over time, the recycled structures create a habitat mimicking that of a natural reef, DEC noted.