Drainage pipes are a form of infrastructure that already typically include recycled plastic. | Courtesy of Advanced Drainage Systems

Not only should the U.S. try to expand and standardize plastics recycling, but it should also consider using the material in various public infrastructure projects, a report suggested. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine called recycled plastics “an underutilized resource” in a new report and called for action from the public sector at the federal, state and local levels to improve the national management system. 

The report classified the U.S.’s plastics management system as in the early stages of development. 

“Activities are not well coordinated between the public and private sectors, and research and development for capture, processing and reuse in consumer products and infrastructure is not far advanced,” a press release added. 

PET, HDPE, LDPE and PP could be used in asphalt pavement mixes, drainage pipes, railroad ties, bike paths, composite utility poles or highway sound barriers, the report suggested, though the press release noted that “there are many competing uses for these plastics.”

There is already significant demand for recycled plastic drainage pipes and septic systems, primarily from Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS). 

“A range of factors inhibit adoption, however, such as a lack of familiarity, uncertainties over formulation and methods of use, unknowns regarding environmental impacts – including the potential release of microplastics – and effects on long-term performance,” the press release noted. 

Therefore, the U.S. Department of Transportation should conduct a multiyear field-testing program on adding plastics to asphalt, and the U.S. EPA should research each new use of recycled plastics, the report stated. 

Separately, researchers at the University of Missouri are testing how scrap tires and plastics could be integrated with asphalt along a portion of the state’s Interstate 155. 

The National Academies study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. EPA. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are nonprofit institutions chartered by the U.S. Congress that provide analysis and advice to the nation on complex problems. 

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