Waterloo is making 'sustainable pavement' with recycled plastic

Waterloo is making 'sustainable pavement' with recycled plastic 

Using recycled plastic pellets as a supplement to bitumen can make roads cheaper, more sustainable and high-quality; an innovative solution for Canada’s increasing plastic problem.


Every year, more recycling is headed to landfills than anytime in Canadian history. This is measured by something called residual rate. Residual rate tallies how much of the recycling plant’s materials are incinerated or sent to landfill.

In previous years, a healthy residual rate was approximately 10 percent, meaning 90 percent of materials were being recycled. Today, it’s not uncommon for a recycling plant to maintain residual rates anywhere between 25 and 40 percent. The City of Toronto’s residual rate was 22 percent in 2015 and approximately 30 percent today; nearly one-third of recycled materials in Toronto is pure pollution.

Experts in the Canadian recycling industry recognize there are many factors to this complex problem, including: over consumption of non-recyclables, lack of sophisticated sorting, recycling contamination, cost of collection services, and more.

However, one of the key components of this recycling epidemic is the lack of companies using recycled materials in their supply chains and products. Virgin plastics are often cheaper than recycled, and it’s up to the consumers to support brands that take sustainable initiative, despite cost. 

Adidas and Last20 are two examples of companies that currently offer products made from recycled plastic bottles. Approximately 8 plastic bottles are used in a set of Ultraboost Parley Shoes and 6 plastic bottles in every Sustainably Made T-shirt.

Apparel is an amazing industry for upcycling, but are there other sectors that could manifest innovative solutions that achieve a greater environmental impact? Yes, plastic pavement! 

Traditional roads are 90 percent aggregate, this includes rocks and minerals, acting as a base for the pavement. The remainder is bitumen, refined oil that acts as a sticky, viscous binder that holds the aggregate mixture together. When both are mixed and heated correctly, they can be poured and pressed into position.

In India and the UK, governments have begun testing the results of adding recycled plastic flakes into the pavement blends to replace portions of bitumen. What were the results? The road was more water- and impact-resistant than traditional roads; cost-effective, recycled plastic is 2 to 7 times cheaper than the cost of bitumen; and sustainable, upcycling thousands of tonnes of plastic in the process.

In Fall of 2019, Last20 launched a new business segment dedicated to plastic pavement called Last20 Upcycle. Last20 is working with chemical engineers from Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo to develop proprietary plastic pellets made from recycled plastic materials that can be added into pavement blends. This new solution does not require new equipment, processes or training. Last20 plans to build their first test road and launch their commercial product by 2021.

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