Stretching a short 30 meters (100 feet) in the northeastern city of Zwolle, the two-lane bike path’s surface is paved with the equivalent of a half-million plastic bottle caps and promises to be two to three more times durable than run-of-the-mill asphalt. Although impervious to potholes and cracks, if the path is heavily damaged or falls into disrepair, it can easily be removed and recycled again.
It’s the first of a small handful of pilot projects from PlasticRoad, a nascent road-building technology venture spearheaded by Dutch civil engineering firm KWS in partnership with plastic pipe-maker Wavin and France-headquartered gas and oil mega-company Total.
Engineer Toby McCartney wants to use recycled plastic instead of oil to repair some of the world’s 40 million kilometers (24.8 million miles) of road. The idea would solve more than one problem: poor road quality, the continued use of fossil fuels, and the waste plastic epidemic. His Scottish start-up, MacRebur, mixes waste plastic into asphalt to create roads that last longer and are less prone to getting potholes.
The idea was born when Toby, was working in Southern India with a charity helping people who work on landfill sites as ‘pickers’. Their job is to gather potentially reusable items and sell them on to be turned from rubbish into something useful again.
Some of the waste plastics retrieved by the pickers were put into potholes, petrol poured all over them, and the rubbish set alight until the plastics melted into the craters to form a makeshift plastic pothole filler.
Upon returning to the U.K., Toby got together with his two mates, waste expert Nick and construction engineer Gordon, and formed MacRebur. They take waste plastic that is destined for landfill sites and recycle it. They use a special formula to clean it off, create pellets using it, and then use those pellets to add to a mixture of rocks and bitumen to make longer-lasting roads.
So far, the scheme has won the approval of Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, and McCartney’s company MacRebur has gotten the support of two local governments in England to start using MR6, MacRebur’s patent pending, high performance, asphalt binder additive to build their roads.
We reckon we could use some plastic roads in Australia too!