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.

Virginia DOT Launches Anti-Litter Campaign

The Virginia Department of Transportation recently launched Virginia is for Lovers, Not Litter – a public outreach campaign aimed at raising awareness about Virginia’s roadway litter problem.

[Photo courtesy of Virginia DOT]

The agency noted that its 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.

Rob Cary, VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner
Photo courtesy of Virginia DOT

“Virginia DOT and our partners across the state are committed to promoting ways to reduce litter,” added Rob Cary, Virginia DOT’s chief deputy commissioner and chair of the newly formed Environmental Subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board. “Having litter-free highways is something we should all be working toward. The first step is to ensure everyone recognizes the role they can play in preserving the beauty of our Commonwealth, which should change the mindset of littering on our roadways.”

He noted that roadway litter negatively affects the environment and the state economy; impacting “our quality of life, safety, economic development, and recruitment of businesses and families to the Commonwealth.”

Shannon Valentine, Secretary, VDOT
Photo courtesy of Virginia DOT

“This campaign is yet another important step in Virginia’s transportation sector to promote environmental stewardship,” noted Shannon Valentine, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, in a statement. “Through his campaign, we are emphasizing the responsibility each of us has to respect and protect the public spaces we share.”

Several state departments of transportation have ramped up litter campaigns in recent months.

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. “Litter increases the risk of fire, pollutes our waterways, threatens wildlife and costs taxpayers millions of dollars to remove,” explained Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement. “We ask all Californians to be part of the solution, dispose of trash responsibly, and secure cargo loads before getting on the road.”

Alabama DOT Launches Anti-Litter Campaign

The Alabama Department of Transportation is launching an anti-litter campaign entitled “Trash Costs Cash.” The campaign will use 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.

[Above photo by the Alabama Governor’s Office.]

The Alabama DOT – which spent almost $7 million in 2019 to clean up litter along state roadways – noted that fines for littering have doubled. The minimum fine is now $500, up from $250 for a first conviction, while the second conviction is $1,000 and up to 100 hours of community service.

“Litter can harm our environment and have a negative impact on road safety and the natural beauty of our state,” said Allison Green, coordinator for Drive Safe Alabama at the Alabama DOT, in a statement.

“If we each play our part in keeping our state clean, we won’t be impacted by the rising litter fines. More ALDOT funding can be spent on improving the roads we drive instead of litter pickup,” Green added.

Removing roadside litter is a costly ongoing endeavor for state departments of transportation, as illustrated by a study issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in February.

PennDOT’s study found that its crews, contractors, and volunteers removed 502 million pieces of litter from Pennsylvania’s roads in 2019, with the most common being cigarette butts (37 percent) and plastics (30 percent). The agency’s research also determined that plastic film and beverage containers were the most prevalent items – with an estimated 29.3 million beverage containers alone littering Pennsylvania’s roads.

Caltrans Repaves Road with Completely Recycled Material

The California Department of Transportation recently repaved a three-lane, 1,000-foot long section of Highway 162 using recycled asphalt pavement and liquid plastic made with single-use, plastic bottles – the first time the department said it has paved a road using 100 percent recycled materials.

[Above photo courtesy of Caltrans.]

The agency noted that such “plastic” roadways in previous test projects were found to be more durable and last two to three times longer than traditional hot-mixed asphalt pavement.

Using new technology developed by TechniSoil Industrial of Redding, CA, a recycling train of equipment grinds up the top three inches of pavement and then mixes the grindings with a liquid plastic polymer binder that comes from a high amount of recycled, single-use bottles. The new asphalt material is then placed on the top surface of the roadway, eliminating the need for trucks to bring in outside material for a paving operation. By eliminating the need to haul asphalt from the outside, this process can also help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“This pilot project underscores the department’s commitment to embracing innovative and cost-effective technologies while advancing sustainability and environmental protection efforts,” noted Toks Omishakin, director of Caltrans, in a statement.

“Using waste plastic that was otherwise destined for a landfill will not only reduce the cost of road repair and construction, but also increase the strength and durability of our roads,” added California State Senator Ben Hueso, who has advocated that Caltrans test this material. “California is uniquely positioned to transform the transportation industry once again by using this new technology that could revolutionize the way we look at recycled plastic.”

Caltrans noted currently has a cold in-place asphalt recycling program that uses large machines to remove three to six inches of roadway surface and grind up the asphalt while mixing it with a foamed binding agent made of bitumen, a leftover sludge from oil refining. However, that recycled material used in this process is only durable enough to serve as the roadway base – and trucks must deliver hot-mix asphalt from a production plant located miles away and place a final layer over that base.

That’s why Amarjeet Benipal, director of Caltrans’ District 3, said the new plastic roadway process is better for the environment versus the cold in-place program. “It keeps plastic bottles out of landfills and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels,” he noted.

Several state DOTs are testing a variety of different products to help make roadway pavements more durable and environmentally-friendly.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation, for example, began testing a new asphalt additive along with two private companies in late 2018 along a stretch of Interstate 94 outside Albertville, MN, near the MnROAD research facilities – an additive designed to help highway agencies and contractors use more recycled asphalt and less “virgin” products. That additives – called a “rejuvenator” and made by agricultural conglomerate Cargill and aggregate supplier Hardrives – is a substance that promises to reverse the effects of aging when the existing asphalt roadway is recycled back into the new road.

Nevada DOT Moves Toward Greener Pavement through Recycling

During the many years that the Nevada Department of Transportation redefined and developed its recycled asphalt pavement program, Changlin “Charlie” Pan – the agency’s chief material engineer – believes several of the most important lessons learned over that time period center on the development of specifications for the recycled materials as well as the construction methods for those recycling projects. 

“Communication with the project manager during design and contractors during construction to find a balance between construction cost and quality of the finished product,” Pan explained, served as “the key” to success of developing the most suitable specification for the best product. 

“In the long run, recycling/reuse efforts will reduce pavement life cycle costs and extend highway pavement life in between scheduled rehabilitation,” he added.

The Nevada DOT uses thousands of tons of recycled asphalt pavement each year within its cold-in-place or CIP recycling practices, the agency noted, and it also incorporates used tires into a rubberized asphalt roadway mix for some projects, too.

CIP Recycling is a method of reusing the existing asphalt surface by grinding off the top two to three inches of the existing asphalt surface and mixing the crushed asphalt in place with an emulsified asphalt recycling agent, then placing it back down with a paver. This restores existing material reducing the amount of outside material required to be hauled into and out of the project site. It is also a “cold process,” meaning that it requires minimal additional heat during the recycling process, resulting in a decrease in the amount of energy required to produce the final material.

The most prevalent recycling effort is the usage of recycled asphalt pavement or RAP.

Since 2010, nearly every ton of paved structural pavement in Nevada has included 15 percent of the mixture replaced with RAP, the Nevada DOT noted, which permits the regular use of recycled materials without significantly decreasing expected pavement lifespan. The widespread practice has permitted the usage of tens of thousands of tons of fully recycled pavement annually, reducing the use of fossil fuels and other raw materials and reducing waste material going into landfill, the agency said.

It’s all part of a long-terms effort by Nevada to find the best technologies for reducing and reusing various materials in pavement rehabilitation projects. 

For example, a University of Nevada – Reno study noted that the Nevada DOT has been using CIP recycling methods since 1995. The long-term field performance of CIP projects throughout Nevada indicated that it is an effective rehabilitation treatment for roads with low to medium traffic levels. On top of that, Nevada continues to improve and develop the process to provide the most environmentally friendly specifications while maintaining quality pavements. 

The Nevada DOT is also increasing utilization of a process which replaces a minimum 20 percent of the asphalt binder with ground tire rubber creating a mixture called an Asphaltic-Rubber Friction Course; a process proven to increase the lifespan and significantly reduce highway noise in certain applications such as over concrete pavements.  

The agency also began using rubberized asphalt in the early 1990s and performed research to determine the most economical thickness in order to reduce cracking and durability problems; especially its resistance to cold-weather cracking and warm-weather rutting. Nevada then passed legislation in the early 2000s that stopped sending whole tires to landfills – requiring them to be recycled instead. Thus, the use of the recycled tire rubber in asphalt became one of the top uses to successfully eliminate environmental harm from the disposal of the old tires. 

In fact, the Rubber Pavements Association states that between 500 and 2,000 scrap tires can be used in each lane mile of pavement. Depending on the application type used, a one-mile section of a four-lane highway will use between 2,000 and 8,000 tires, while “rubberized” pavements are also known to significantly reduce noise pollution. 

Further permissible usage of recycled tire rubber results from paving grade asphalts to be substituted with a terminal blend asphalt that allows 10 percent replacement with processed recycled rubber. This process proved fiscally beneficial in the economic downturn of the late 2000s – known as the Great Recession – that drove down fuel and asphalt prices to record low levels. With careful evaluation, this material permitted the usage of more economical products with no perceivable reduction in the high-performance expectations of Nevada’s pavements.

AASHTO Releases Earth Day Video

In recognition of the Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is releasing a two-part series entitled Recycling, Transportation and You.

Produced by Transportation TV, this series highlights how state departments of transportation play a major role in recycling asphalt pavement – long considered to be the most recycled product in America – as well as how old tires are broken down into small chunks and reused to make new asphalt pavement.

The series also examines the impact everyday Americans have on the volume of trash produced by the nation. Did you know that the average American throws away roughly five pounds of garbage each day? That adds up to 139 million tons of trash dumped into landfills every year.

Thus, this video series also includes recycling information for the general public in terms of bringing those numbers down.