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Where does your recycled plastic go? Perhaps into future highways.

An article in Monday's Washington Post proposed that the plastic recycling problem could be solved by using the recycled plastic to make roads.


This is a quintessentially bad idea. It threatens to become a prime example of how today's solutions can become tomorrow's problems if you don't think it through.

For this to make a difference, it would have to go to scale, with massive numbers of roads being made of recycled plastic. If it didn't go to scale, it would become a boutique band-aid, allowing us to feel good about a faux solution but not really solving anything.

Here's tomorrow's problem if this gets implemented: Roads degrade because they get abraded by vehicular traffic. That becomes massive amounts of micro and nano plastic particles… plastic dust. Storm run-off would carry it into the waste water system or directly into surface waters.

Air currents would transport it in the wind. Sooner or later a lot of it would wind up in the oceans. And ultimately in our poop. It would become even more of a problem than what we have today.

Exactly how much of a problem would depend upon what mix of polymers were used and what additives might be in the plastics, as that would determine the particles' toxicity.

It's terrifying to think about, frankly.

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