Facing waste crisis, California could use recycled plastic to pave its roads

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VISTA, Calif. – With the touch of a button, Chris Sparks offers some insight into the future of roads in California, one paved with recycled plastic.

Sparks’ company, MacRebur Southern California, which was founded in 2019, makes a product entirely out of waste plastic. The company bills itself as having two distinct missions: solving the world’s waste plastic epidemic and enhancing asphalt used to make road surfaces.

Thus far, Sparks said MacRebur has done about five private road projects in the San Diego area.

“We are lowing the amount of fossil fuels used in asphalt and replacing that with this waste additive to make a longer-lasting road,” he said.

Soon, it’s a model that could be implemented on roads statewide.

Caltrans, which manages the state’s highways system, is conducting a study on plastic road material through 2023. If all goes well, the study ⁠— being conducted as part of SB 1238, which was introduced in February by state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) ⁠— could make the state the first in the nation to use recycled plastic for its roads.

“As the 5th largest economy in the world, the state has a responsibility to lead on solutions to the growing plastic pollution crisis, and to lead in the reduction of unnecessary waste generally,” the text of the bill reads.

Up until 2018, China was buying up much of the world’s discarded plastic, including roughly two-thirds of the plastic waste from California. But in the past two years, that relationship has diminished, leaving some countries including the U.S. reeling to decide what to do with its buildup of plastic recyclables, according to reporting from the New York Times.

“That was one of our focuses, doing something with the plastic,” said Bryce Garrod, a rising senior at Bonita Vista High School in Chula Vista.

Garrod was a junior when Hueso visited the school and mentioned the plastic surplus. He challenged students to come up with a solution to put it to good use. Garrod said he and his father recalled reading articles about MacRebur and thought it might be useful on a larger scale.

“They got a bill introduced, and it passed the senate,” Hueso said. “It’s a great bill idea. I know this is going somewhere.”

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