Waste plastic can become the sustainable future of road surfaces

Toby McCartney, CEO and co-founder at MacRebur explains how plastic can be turned into a material to pave our roads instead of beings sent to landfill

Did you know that 55 per cent of the UK’s plastic ends up in landfill? In fact, every single piece of plastic ever created is still here on earth today, taking hundreds, and even thousands of years to degrade. Five trillion pieces of this plastic exists in our oceans, resulting in over 100,000 sea life deaths each year.

Waste plastics are also a large contributor to the 700 million tonnes of carbon emitted by the UK each year. At present, we are on track to cut just 40 per cent of the emissions required to reach our 2050 net-zero target and avoid irreversible damage to the planet. Plastic is a useful material. It is used for medical equipment, electronics and more. The issue lies with how we make use of plastic after its initial purpose – and the resulting waste it creates.

The world is in a climate crisis, and we are experiencing a serious waste plastic epidemic. And something needs to be done to combat it. We need to be innovative and work together to come up with the solutions and alternatives needed to help the planet and reduce the amount of waste plastic, to reach our net-zero target.

Businesses all over the world are coming up with inventive solutions to help reduce waste plastics and carbon emissions. From transforming recycled plastic into jewellery and clothing, to creating reusable water bottles and coffee cups, companies are thinking outside the box to introduce ways of being more sustainable and eco-conscious.

One such solution, which is now being implemented around the world, processes waste plastic and incorporates it into the road surfaces we drive on. Waste plastic that cannot be recycled and would otherwise end up in landfill or incineration can now be broken down and incorporated into asphalt for road construction and surfacing. This extends and enhances the bitumen (fossil fuel) binder, reducing carbon emissions whilst using up otherwise useless plastic waste.

This solution tackles several issues. It reduces the amount of plastic waste sent to landfill, reduces carbon emissions, and energy and fossil fuel usage, and significantly enhances the asphalt used to make road surfaces. Using waste plastic in roads also creates a fundamentally better surfacing product that is better able to cope with the contraction and expansion caused by changes in the weather. Therefore, recycled roads are less prone to potholes and the roads themselves last longer.

Ultimately, it will help to create an environment we are proud to pass on to future generations, fostering a wholly circular economy and benefiting the environment in the long run.

Recycled roads are already laid across the world, Moldova, Estonia, and Spain to name a few. Recent trials have taken place in New York, giving a new lease of life to the state’s first waste plastic public roads. For this project alone, more than 7,000kg of CO2e has been saved compared to traditional asphalt and the equivalent weight of more than 200,000 single-use plastic bottles have been diverted from landfill.

The benefits of recycled roads outnumber our current ‘solution’, and this is all whilst creating better and longer-lasting roads for future generations.

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