‘Toxic timebomb’

Scientist slams plastic in roads as ‘greenwash’

THE RECYCLED plastic used to pave two new streets in Port Coogee has created a “toxic time bomb”, claims environmental scientist Jo Immig.

Earlier this month contractors installed the recycled asphalt “Reconophalt” on Cecilia and Skerne Lanes for Port Coogee developer Frasers Property Australia.

Downer Group’s Reconophalt was made from 40,000 plastic bags, 900 printer cartridges, tyre rubber and seven tonnes of recycled asphalt pavement.

But National Toxics Network coordinator Jo Immig says the recycled asphalt was “greenwashing”.

“On the surface, it sounds appealing, but when you dig a bit deeper it’s not a good idea.”

She claims that plastic in roads creates a “direct route” for microplastics to find their way into the ocean.

“Imagine vast stretches of plastic the roads are made of, being driven over. Bits of this plastic is breaking down and making its way into drainage, our waterways, then finally the ocean.”

Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign’s WA co-ordinator Marina Hansen is also concerned about the emerging technology, saying even fragments of plastic too small to be seen by the naked eye could make its way into our bodies through the food chain.

“We have been led to believe that plastic will just disappear. But, now we know this is simply not true,” Ms Hansen said.

“Every piece of plastic made in the last 70 years is still here on our planet. It doesn’t break down.

“When plastic enters the ocean, UV light, tides and wind, break it up into smaller particles known as microplastics and these are ingested by fish, birds and marine mammals. The result can be a slow and painful death from starvation as their stomachs are full of plastic so they no longer feel hungry.

“Studies have revealed that plastic is being eaten in large quantities by all sea creatures from corals to zooplankton to whales. This creates serious concerns regarding the potential contamination of seafood. Both the health of marine life and humans are at risk.”

According to the US National Library of Medicine, exposure and ingestion of plastic has destructive “effects on health and reproduction, such as early sexual maturation, decreased male fertility, aggressive behaviour,” and can cause cancer.

Ms Immig isn’t convinced the benefits of recycling the plastic outweigh the risks to the environment and human health.

“We don’t have time to waste on these ideas… people think it’s a solution, it’s not,” she says.

“In the next five years we are going to have to do a lot of correcting.

“It’s seriously getting to the point where we can’t do anything.

“It’s horrible. I’m rapidly losing faith. We can’t give up. But it’s a huge thing to face.”

by ALEXANDRA CASEY

• Densford Civil workers put down “Reconophalt” in Port Coogee.

Manufacturer: It’s safe

THE company which developed the recycled asphalt used in Port Coogee insists its product does not present a risk to the environment.

Downer Group WA manager Phil Strapp said his company had been working on Reconophalt for more than five years, liaising with environmental regulators such as the NSW Environmental Protection Authority.

“A lot of research and development has gone into the development of this product to ensure that it is not only fit for purpose, but that the performance and material characteristics are superior to standard asphalt,” Mr Strapp said.

“Reconophalt is an asphaltic concrete modified with soft plastics, and not a full plastic product.”

Mr Strapp said Downer had worked with leading recycling company Close the Loop to develop a “Tonerplas” additive that includes the recycled plastic.

“The plastic within the pavement forms a very small proportion of the asphalt, representing only 0.3 per cent of the total mix.

“The plastic in the additive melts during the asphalt production phase and becomes part of the binder.

“The binder is a viscoelastic material that will oxidise in the same way a standard binder will age.”

He said the process used only enough heat to melt and dissolve the soft plastics.

“Our process is designed to ensure no microplastics can be emitted, or plastics leach out into the surrounding environment.”

Mr Strapp said polymers, or plastics, had been used to modify bitumen binders for more than 30 years.

“Downer has had extensive fume, leaching and microplastics testing completed by eternal testing agencies, including having samples tested in Europe,” he said.

He said the company would continue to gather data and report to the EPA.

Cockburn council engineering and works director Charles Sullivan said the council would wait to see how the asphalt performed under load before using it elsewhere.

by STEVE GRANT

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