ILLUSTRATION BY FABIO CONSOLI
Los Angeles is known for its car culture, and one of the downsides of all that traffic is degraded roads. In fact, poor road conditions cost the average Angeleno driver more than $900 in gas and repairs each year. In response, the city has partnered with the company Technisoil Industrial to test a new paving material, made in part from recycled plastic, that might be more durable and more sustainable. “Our material doesn’t exhibit any off-gassing the way asphalt does, and our system poses no potential contamination to any waterway or soil,” founder Sean Weaver claims. “It’s zero-leaching. We made sure that it was as safe for the environment as possible.” Here, Weaver explains why he believes he’s building a road to the future.
How did Technisoil get started?
The [landscape] market was moving toward more natural and sustainable material. I started doing research to find something that could be mixed with decomposed granite to create a golf cart path. In 2014, we started to look at polymer systems to be used with recycled asphalt, and [now] we’ve figured out how to make the polymer system using recycled plastic.
Why recycled plastic?
The U.S. has a real plastic problem. We used to ship our plastic to China, but now China is not taking it. There’s an abundance of [waste plastic], so if we get part of our polymer package from that, it lowers our costs and makes our system more sustainable.
And your repaving process is also more sustainable, right?
Our system allows for the recycling of 100 percent of a road section. With a traditional road, when they want to replace a section, they have to mill the top three inches of that road off. For every one-mile lane, they’ve got to haul away 42 truckloads of waste and then haul in 42 truckloads of new asphalt. Our recycled roads will last, at a minimum, twice as long as a new hot mix asphalt road, and it will be done by recycling the road, so we will be bringing sustainability to the road-construction market.
How does it work?
A cold recycling train grinds the road and sends the grindings up into a second trailer, and there it’s crushed and mixed with our liquid plastic. That will then come out the end of that trailer and go into a paver. Basically, you’ll be grinding the road, and the finished road will be coming out the last piece of equipment.
And the road is higher-quality?
Our polymer system adds strength. We can make the lowest-quality roads in third-world countries stronger than the best road in a [higher-income] nation.
How have other people in the road-construction industry reacted to your technology?
[Some] would laugh and roll their eyes. … If you could resupply asphalt to roads that had short life cycles, and someone comes along and says, “Hey, we can build a road that lasts twice as long,” that’s a threat.