A Bridge Made of Waste Plastic
Recycled plastic bridge over the River Tweed in Wales. Photo by Vertech Composites.
I have written about the enduring persistence of petroleum-based plastic as a bad thing, at least regarding waste plastic that doesn’t break down safely in the environment. However, a recent accomplishment by European engineers exhibits a potential virtue of discarded polymers.
The recently completed River Tweed bridge in Wales is fabricated entirely from recycled thermoplastics, and is the first of its kind outside the United States (a similar plastic composite bridge was built in Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2009). The high-density polyethylene (HDPE) construction utilizes over 50 tons of landfill-bound material, and can support point loads up to 44 tons.
British-based Vertech Composites claims that the 90 foot long bridge will last half a century, and will save $300/ square-foot in maintenance when compared with bridges of conventional materials, such as concrete or steel. This is an unusual case in which the rugged endurance of waste plastic is being put to good use, and the success of this application may lead to discarded plastic becoming a significant feedstock for similar uses in the future.