Recycled PVC For Freeways, Railways

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With the federal stimulus plan allowing for more highway and railway infrastructure improvements to be made, the need for project resources will inevitably increase as well.

Becoming more common is the use of recycled plastics in construction of these large-scale infrastructure projects.


Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or plastic #3, is a thermoplastic polymer of vinyl chloride commonly used in piping for water systems and other construction processes.  The additives used in the production of PVC inhibit most large-scale, post-consumer recycling, a factor contributing to a national recycling rate of only one quarter of one percent!

In addition to noise cooridors, recycled plastic is also being used to replace old wooden rail ties. Photo: sxc.hu

In addition to noise corridors, recycled plastic is also being used to replace old wooden rail ties. Photo: sxc.hu

A few dozen pioneering companies make products from recycled PVC, notably in the transportation industry for highway and railroad use. Harder, Luckey and Hargrave, Inc. (HLH) is one such company that utilizes recycled outdoor PVC resin to produce sight and sound barriers for freeway and railway corridors.

According to HLH, sight and sounds barriers made of recycled PVC are up to one-third the cost to manufacture and install compared to typical pre-cast concrete barriers. Recycled PVC requires approximately seven-and-a-half truck trips per mile of highway barrier construction, versus 330 trips with heavier concrete materials.

“It can be a catch-22 when transportation agencies are not aware of newer, cheaper alternatives,” said Jim Ford of HLH. “Developers don’t offer it because agencies don’t ask for it in their RFPs, and agencies don’t ask for it because developers aren’t offering it.”


State officials in New Jersey were recently asked to consider a barrier project to reduce noise for the state’s turnpike expansion. The three to four million dollar per mile increase for the barrier additions left state officials shocked and residents upset about the potential noise increase.

“It just doesn’t have to be that way, when you have a product that has been in the marketplace for a number of years, has been tested and proven as effective as the current standards, utilizes recycled materials and reduces energy consumption at a significant cost savings to taxpayers,” said Ford.

Other forms of recycled plastic are often used in transportation infrastructure, including recycled plastic bags and bottles used to replace wooden railroad ties with stronger, plastic ones.

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