Where the plastic meets the road
Company initiative to use plastic refuse in road construction provides a path toward a circular economy, reducing pollution and putting waste to work.
Embracing the concept of a circular carbon economy and the goals set forth in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Aramco puts into action an innovation to open an outlet and industry that transforms used plastic to help build up the Kingdom’s roads.
Plastic waste has become a major issue in recent times and poses risk of environmental pollution. The technology of using plastic waste in road construction provides a circular economy that contributes to the continuous use of recycled plastic to reduce the use of raw materials and reduction of waste disposal, reducing pollution resulting from its manufacture and associated carbon emissions. Recycled plastic consists of used plastic bottles, bags, and other plastic packaging materials.
The Corporate Green Energy Program
An ongoing concept introduced by Aramco under the Corporate Green Energy Program was at this time looking to transform local waste plastic into a resource to be used for road construction following the successful pilot at Hawiyah carried out by the Consulting Services Department (CSD) in 2019, where imported recycled plastic was employed. The innovative concept is to turn local waste plastic into a form of asphalt — recycled plastic asphalt — for use in the Kingdom’s road pavement construction and maintenance.
Adopting the principles of a circular carbon economy principle to reduce the use of new materials and adopting recycled materials use, Environmental Protection (EP), CSD, the Western Region Distribution Department (WRDD), and the Distribution and Terminal Projects Department (D&TPD) jointly collaborated to successfully complete an extended recycled plastic pavement pilot project at the Yanbu’ Hub Projects/North Jiddah Bulk Plant Expansion Project BI-10-02399. The expectation is that this extended pilot will perform better as the technical acceptance criteria achieved were in higher order than the pilot in Hawiyah, which provides a promising opportunity toward utilizing local recycled plastic in future road construction.
The use of plastic in road pavement is a sustainable and an environmentally friendly construction option and has proven to improve the strength and stiffness of the asphalt concrete mix and improve the durability and overall performance of the asphalt pavements. The use of plastic can improve the performance grade of the asphalt binder, so that it resists the temperature and traffic loading experienced in the Kingdom.
Adding recycled plastic to the asphalt reduced the amount of bitumen in the asphalt mix to up to 10%, making it a good economical choice. This also reduces the maintenance interventions and reduce life cycle costs.
The section for this pilot was 400 meters long, and 5 meters wide. The piloted section will be monitored throughout the year to ensure performance and durability under daily use conditions. Once approved, the new method will be included in company standards with subsequent outreach to the national stakeholders for Kingdomwide implementation.
Adopting this technology at this test site comes after the successful execution of the Rubber Asphalt Pilot Project implemented in early 2020. The evaluation and implementation of both projects could not have been accomplished without the support and partnership from EP, CSD, WRDD, and D&TPD.
To ensure specifications are met, the temperature of the asphalt mixture is measured before work begins.