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Iowa DOT experimenting with recycled plastics to increase the lifespan of asphalt

A DOT field technician said the results have been encouraging, and using the new technology could save taxpayers money down the line.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) is integrating a recycled plastic mix into asphalt in hopes that it can help roads last longer. 

Shane Fetters, a field technician with the DOT said the project began in 2016 when Doug Clement, president of Construction Material Testing, approached them about using NVI NewRoad Bead Technology.

"It's material that is supposed to increase the life of the pavement, and based on our initial study before recommending it, makes asphalt more durable," Clement said. 

Fetters said the plastic mixture is composed of polystyrene beads. Those beads were used in about 500 tons of asphalt on parts of Northeast 22nd Street in Des Moines more than five years ago.

Now, Fetters said there's a noticeable difference in the side-by-side comparison of the parts that have the recycled plastic mixture in the asphalt versus the regular asphalt.

"From what we're seeing now, the NewRoad technology is holding up more," Fetters said. "It's got higher stability and is stronger. It has less rutting, less cracking than the other asphalt used."

He said this early observation could be good news for taxpayers.

"If it lasts longer that means it has to get replaced less often," Fetters said. "That saves money on having to constantly repair roads."

In the future, the DOT plans to cut out parts of the road that used the plastic mixture and regular asphalt to compare how each is holding up. Those results will be a deciding factor in whether the bead technology could be used in more roads throughout the state.

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