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Time to use plastic waste for laying city roads

S. Annamalai

Other States and civic bodies have taken a lead in utilising it

— Photos: G. Moorthy.

Experimental:A portion of Vilachery Road in the city laid with waste plastic, which has withstood the onslaught of rains.

, Dean, Thiagarajar College of Engineering: “Utilisation of waste plastic to lay roads indirectly helps in reduction of emission of carbon gases into the atmosphere.”

, van driver, Thiagarajar Colony: “I have been using the Vilacheri Road for long. It has not developed any pothole since it was laid.”

MADURAI: After the recent rains, Madurai roads shine only in patches. All over the city, they are laid bare, with their guts out. Important thoroughfares like the 80 Feet Road in K. K. Nagar, Anna Nagar Main Road, Tirupparankundram Road (from Palanganatham Junction to Pasumalai), Bypass Road, Theni Main Road, Lake View Road, Kamarajar Road and Alagarkoil Road sport a motley look. There are craters and potholes, partially filled up using concrete or bitumen, which give a two-wheeler rider a nightmare to remember. In interior lanes and bylanes, there is only a trace of a road that existed once.

The other sight is rainwater carriers and underground drainage getting choked with plastic waste. Unable to force its way in stormwater drains, a bountiful downpour has scattered as waste in low-lying areas, inundating many residential colonies.

But what many citizens would have missed is a rare sight of an unblemished road, running to a distance of one km towards Vilacheri from near Mannar Thirumalai Naicker College. This stretch always sports a ‘new look' and has, in technical terms, ‘no pothole,' ‘no cracking,' ‘no deformation' and ‘no edge flaw' characteristics. This was laid on an experimental basis in March 2005, applying a technology of coating aggregate with waste plastic developed by the Department of Chemistry, Thiagarajar College of Engineering (TCE).

In the last few months, the Madurai Corporation has spent about Rs 30 lakh in providing cosmetic touches to the battered roads. It spends more every month on solid waste management, which includes safe segregation and disposal of used plastic. According to a Corporation study, the city generates 288 tonnes of domestic waste, which accounts for 64 per cent of the total solid waste per day. Commercial waste accounts for 24 per cent (108 tonnes) and hospitals and clinics contribute 18 tonnes (4 per cent). The weight of used plastic in the solid waste in the city is 0.7525 per cent, against 29 per cent vegetable and fruit and 24.36 per cent food waste. Over 50 per cent of solid waste is biodegradable while plastic waste has been a nagging problem for civic authorities.

Other States and civic bodies have taken the lead in utilising plastic waste for laying roads, using the TCE technology. But Madurai, for long, has not taken any serious initiative to exploit a technology available at home. The process facilitates on-the-spot use of waste plastic wherever a road is to be laid. The cost is less as the quantity of bitumen used is less. Even after five to six years, ‘plastic roads' have not shown any “pot holes, rutting or raveling.” The Central Pollution Control Board has acknowledged that the process of road laying using polymer-aggregate-bitumen mix facilitates doubling of road strength, improved resistance to water stagnation, less bleeding during summer and reduction in consumption of bituminous mix.

In its guidelines for the use of plastic waste in rural road construction, applying the TCE technology, the National Rural Roads Development Agency has stated that ‘plastic roads' have increased load withstanding property and there is a substantial increase in road life. The “maintenance cost of the road is almost nil,” it says. It has directed the States to contact R. Vasudevan, Dean, TCE, for technical guidance in laying ‘plastic roads' in rural areas.

Many States have approached Dr. Vasudevan for laying even urban roads. The New Prabhadevi Road in Mumbai was relaid as ‘plastic road' on December 7, 2004. On November 26, 2010, the Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company, a Tata enterprise, has approached TCE for using plastic waste in laying roads in Jamshedpur, rated as the seventh most clean and hygienic city among 450 cities in India. In Madurai also, there have been attempts to involve the public, especially school children, in safe disposal of plastic waste. In this endeavour, corporation schools have joined hands with organisations like Soroptimist International, Madurai chapter, in segregating plastic, which will be used for road laying. Sri Sundareswara Vidyasala Matriculation Higher Secondary School at Attukulam village near Melur has a road entirely laid with the plastic waste collected by students in Melur.

If only plastic waste had been utilised in road laying, the city roads would have been the envy of visitors from outside Madurai.

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