Late last month, protests in Ghana broke out over the conditions of roads spanning across the eastern side of the country. ‘The nature of the road is terrible,” said Tobalo Zeze, Station Officer a branch of the Ghana Private Road Transport Union. “We are suffering too much and have agreed not to ply the road in protest if the situation does not change within the coming months.”

Roads all over the West African nation are in a state of disrepair, which has made the lives of Ghanians all the more difficult. Commutes which routinely take 40 minutes have been stretched to two hours, meaning that bus drivers need more gas and riders need to pay up. The government announced in September of last year its campaign to develop 253 roads across the country that are in partial or total disrepair.

Increased costs of transportation due to road conditions have also impacted food prices and automobile maintenance. During months when rainfall fills potholes to the brim, cars with lower axes find it difficult to navigate the often invisible potholes or drive through the streets altogether.

A study published in 2016, however, may be the solution to two of Ghana’s most pressing challenges: excess solid waste and pothole-ridden roads. The study, which came out of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the CSIR-BRRI in Kusami, Ghana, looks at the use of plastic waste in augmenting the asphalt on Ghana’s roads in an attempt to prevent the mass spread of potholes that exists today. 

Currently in Ghana, waste disposal primarily revolves around utilizing landfills, incineration, and sporadic littering in cities and the countryside. The most harmful of the materials being disposed of is plastic – specifically, Polyethylene Terepthalate (PET), High density Polyethylene (HDPE), and, most dangerous of them all, polyethylene, which is used in food packaging and in sachet water bags.

Modification of the bitumen, more commonly known as asphalt, with plastic can be achieved through two simple processes. Either the plastic is processed and blended before adding in the bitumen, which is known as a ‘dry process’ or mixing in the plastic and and the bitumen together, known as the ‘wet process.’

The researchers tested the penetration, softening point, viscosity, and potential chemical changes of the modified asphalt in order to ensure that the material wouldn’t falter under any kind of thermal or physical pressure once laid down.

Following testing, the researchers found that the softening temperature of the modified asphalt increased by up to three percent, which proved that the improvements safeguard the asphalt against rutting and disrepair and protects the asphalt against increased temperatures. Even at increased temperatures, the modified asphalt could still resist rutting.

Potholes can form for a multitude of reasons, but, generally speaking, they usually form when pavement expands or contracts due to excess ground or rain water. When vehicles pass over these weakened spots, the pressure of the vehicle’s tires begin to break down the asphalt, leading to the creation of potholes.

Last year, a Dutch materials scientist at Delft University in the Netherlands developed an asphalt mixture that enables asphalt roads and pavements to fix themselves.