30th June Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Across the country, our roads require a lot of maintenance and over time, they deteriorate and potholes appear. There are also more than 8 million tons of plastic dumped into our oceans each year and it is estimated that 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away. These might sound like two separate statements, but they could be the answer to each other’s problems. 

According to research only a third of plastic packaging used in consumer products is recycled each year, with almost two-thirds sent to landfill or incinerated, that’s a lot of plastic that could be useful if used elsewhere. Recycled plastic products can be turned into a number of things from plastic furniture, sleeping bags, bumpers for cars, building products and now roads. Cumbria is the first UK county to trial ‘plastic roads’. The new product works by creating roads made up of recycled plastic – plastic that would otherwise be thrown into landfill or the ocean.

Scotland-based company, MacRebur, have developed a product to create stronger, more durable roads. Generally, roads are built of 90 percent rock, sand, and limestone, and 10 percent bitumen. The plastic roads are made with a standard asphalt mix which is made from locally-sourced waste plastic, a material MacRebur call MR6. The MR6 gets mixed with other road-making materials to hold the street together, replacing the need for bitumen.

The plastic road mix is up to 60% stronger and lasts 10 times longer than standard asphalt, increasing a road’s lifespan and reducing the likelihood of potholes in the future, as well as repairing roads that are already damaged. They also lessen tyre resistance, which could help improve fuel economy for vehicles using the road. 

Plastic roads are now used at a truck service station in Cumbria as well as Carlisle Airport. The roads being used in an airport is true testament to how durable they really are. If a plane can safely land on a plastic road, then there’s no reason they can’t be used elsewhere.

MacRebur started out with a goal of getting one or two councils on board, now they’re looking at taking plastic roads around the UK, Europe and eventually worldwide. There are plenty of people who are going to say your ideas aren’t going to work, especially if they’re unconventional, but this is a perfect example of how start-up businesses with a simple idea could be revolutionary to the industry.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.