The television was a mere hum of voices in the background, until I heard mention of plastic roads, causing me to prick my ears lean forward and put down what I was doing. At first the idea got my heckles up. Why would we add more plastic into the massive problematic mix? And what about microplastics? Is this simply burying our rubbish beneath our roads oppose to in landfill. I needed to find out more.
The word plastic originated from the Latin and Greek words plasticus and plastikos, meaning: capable of shaping or moulding. In 1869 John Wesley Hyatt discovered that the cellulose from cotton fibre could be treated with camphor, forming a pliable material. Manufacturing was taking tentative steps towards losing its reliance on nature. In 1907 the first fully synthetic plastic called Bakelite was invented by Leo Bakeland. It was durable, heat resistant and a good insulator perfect for mechanical mass production. World War II created an increasing need for plastic, which continued after VE Day. The plastic industry was established.
By the 1950s, 1.7 million tonnes of plastic was being produced, today this has risen to more than 300 million tonnes. Every molecule of plastic ever produced, is still in existence today and 40% ends up in landfill. It is estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic waste finds its way into our oceans every year, adding to the 150 million tonnes already present. Globally an estimated 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year, a direct result of plastic. So what can be done about this staggering amount of plastic waste and its deadly problem towards marine life.
There are 40 million km of roads in the world, surfaced using hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. In April 2016 Toby MaCartney, Gordon Reid and Nick Burnett launched MacRebur. Toby MaCartney had witnessed potholes in India being filled with waste plastic and ignited, using petrol as an accelerator. This gave him a eureka moment. What if waste plastic could replace traditional asphalt. Over eighteen months of testing, 501 samples were sent to a UK accredited services laboratory to achieve the standards required to safely use plastic waste in our road surfaces.
So How Does it Work?
A 60/40 split of commercial and household waste is turned into tiny pieces using a granulator. An activator is added which enables the plastic to bind properly into the road surface. These plastic pellets replace a large proportion of the bitumen which is extracted from crude oil and added to traditional asphalt comprising of rocks, limestone and sand. The use of fossil fuels is significantly reduced and the plastic is melted at a lower temperature than traditional asphalt. The results of rigorous testing suggest no microplastics are present, because the plastic is returning to its original oil based state as a sticky substance and no tiny particles.