Plastic Roads

There are around 24.8 million miles of roads spanning across the earth, which have been built using hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. Now a Scottish company is piloting a scheme to conserve natural resources and build future roads out of plastic - helping to solve the growing problem of plastic waste.

Engineer Toby McCartney has come up with the perfect solution to the abundance of carelessly discarded plastic waste which is polluting our oceans. His company, MacRebur, specialises in laying roads made of recycled plastic that are believed to be up to 60% stronger than asphalt roads - and they will last about ten times longer.

Plastic pelllets

© 831days / Adobe Stock

First factory

He opened his first factory in Lockerbie, in the Galloways and Dumfries region of Scotland, in March 2019, collecting rubbish to recycle which would otherwise have gone to landfill sites. Making a 1km stretch of plastic road would use 1.8 million single-use plastic bags or 684,000 plastic bottles.

Mr McCartney said the opening of his first factory was an important milestone, as it would tackle plastic pollution, while helping to remedy the problem of potholes in roads because plastic is so much stronger than conventional materials.

It will turn 100% recycled plastic into small plastic pellets (known as MR6 pellets) to replace the usual material used to bind the roads together, bitumen, which is extracted from crude oil.

Normal roads are made from around 90% rock, limestone and sand, combined with 10% bitumen. The new process replaces most of the bitumen with waste plastic from domestic properties, farms and commercial premises.

The MR6 pellets are taken to asphalt plants, where they are mixed with quarried rock and a small percentage of bitumen in a process that is almost the same as mixing the conventional way, but with a few additions.

Origins of plastic roads

The idea for plastic roads was the result of something that happened at his daughter's school. The teacher asked the pupils, "What lives in the ocean?" and his daughter replied, "Plastic." Shocked at the prospect his daughter may grow up in a world where this was true, Mr McCartney was inspired to design the plastic road.

He had spent time in India, where he noticed that local people would often mend potholes in the road by filling them with waste plastic, which was then set alight to melt it before it solidified to fill the hole.

He launched his own company, MacRebur, with his friends, Gordon Reid and Nick Burnett, to bring the idea to fruition. They tested the road-building material on his own driveway and it was a success. The first plastic roads were laid in the county of Cumbria.

Pilot scheme

A pilot scheme for plastic roads is also being rolled out in Coventry by the city council. The first road to be resurfaced using the new material was Montalt Road in Cheylesmore, which had been plagued by potholes in the past.

The new surface was proving so successful that Coventry City Council made the announcement in March 2019 that the pilot scheme for plastic roads was being extended. Resurfacing of Birmingham Road in Allesley began on 11th March and it will be completed in three stages to avoid disruption for motorists and residents.

The new surfacing material being used in Coventry will also contain rubber crumbs that have come from old vehicle tyres. Local people have praised the initiative to recycle plastic and rubber waste. The council said that regular road surfaces needed replacing more often, because of an increasing number of vehicles on the roads, so a sustainable and hard-wearing solution was required. Plastic roads ticked every box and they are also cheaper than conventional asphalt road surfaces.

Are plastic roads a good idea?

Construction firm VolkerWessels (based in the Netherlands) points to statistics which claim asphalt is to blame for 1.6 million tons of CO2 escaping into the atmosphere each year. This makes up 2% of total road transport emissions.

A road made from recycled plastic is said to be able to withstand temperatures from -40°C to 80°C. A plastic road could potentially last for 50 years and wouldn't be affected by corrosion. It would therefore require less maintenance, so theoretically would mean fewer traffic jams for road maintenance works. In addition, the construction costs are cheaper, the roads have better resistance to groundwater and there will be no potholes.

However, critics of the scheme claim that burning the plastic while the road is being constructed can be harmful to the environment and can cause health issues for the workers who may breathe in the fumes. These are all issues that must be taken into account before the UK government would approve the mass building of plastic roads.

Responsible plastic use

As a responsible business, Solent Plastics supplies a range of recycling storage and plastic waste bins to help commercial and domestic recycling schemes.

In addition, many of our products are made from recycled plastic, such as our ECO recycled plastic storage containers. You might also want to check out our eco-friendly used plastic boxes, crates, and containers.

Please contact us for further details of wide range of environmentally friendly products.