Mind & Matter


A Bridge Made of Waste Plastic

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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.


Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:28 PM Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Given that vinyl windows have been known to break down in less than 15 years, and that plastics in general do not last in UV exposures it will be interesting to see how the materials perform over time.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:26 PM Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    half a century-exposed to the elements...how long would these components last if not exposed?

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.