Scientists at Hawaiʻi Pacific University analyze stormwater runoff from state’s first plastic road
In a multi-year collaborative project, Hawai’i Pacific University research scientists and students have simulated rainfall on Hawai‘i’s first plastic road to determine if the created stormwater runoff contains harmful leached microplastics and/or synthetic chemicals.
The project began in October in Ewa Beach on O’ahu and is led and funded by the Hawai’i Department of Transportation.
The sample collection of rainwater runoff gathered from the road will take several months to analyze. A total of 1,950 tons of modified asphalt was used in the plastic road, the equivalent of 195,000 plastic bottles.
Jennifer Lynch, Ph.D., the co-director of the university’s Center for Marine Debris Research, is leading the portion of the research addressing microplastic and plastic additive leaching from the pavement.
“Nine students and staff … are working together like a pit crew to collect and analyze the water for this monumental trial of recycling plastic waste into Hawai‘i’s roads,” Lynch said in a press release. “Today is progress toward a very large research project in collaboration with the state and University of Hawai‘i.
“The stretch of road we have sampled is the first road paved with recycled plastics in Hawai‘i, so it is important that we understand if the pavement leaches environmental pollutants.”
The plastic road has been driven on for nine months. It is divided into three seamless sections. The middle segment is the control area; the first and last segments of the road include the recycled plastics. The road looks and feels the same as any other asphalt road in Hawai‘i.
At the Center for Marine Debris Research, Lynch is currently leading several projects aimed at mitigating the harmful effects of plastic pollution on marine life. These include:
- coordinating the removal and recycling of 200 tons of derelict fishing gear, or “ghost nets,” from the entire Hawaiian archipelago
- investigating the chemical, physical and biological changes that occur during the weathering of plastic pollution
- developing methods to measure micro and nanoplastics in the environment
- quantifying the amount of plastic ingested by sea birds, sea turtles and fish.
Through these initiatives, Lynch and her team are working to create a cleaner and safer ocean for all. To learn more, click here.