The project will recycle the equivalent of approximately 238,958 single use plastic bags that would otherwise have gone to incineration or landfill, and will cover a combined area of 3079 square metres in what is a first for the UK's highway network. The waste plastic is processed, granulated, and combined with asphalt for use in road construction and surfacing to extend and enhance the binding properties of the bitumen.
Located on Lowther Street in the centre of Carlisle, the new road will look exactly the same as regular asphalt but because it contains plastic, it will be more flexible. This means it can cope better with contraction and expansion caused by changes in the weather, reducing cracks and potholes. Replacing part of the bitumen normally used to produce asphalt with granulated waste plastic, MacRebur's roads also require less fossil fuel, therefore reducing carbon emissions.
Toby McCartney, CEO at MacRebur, says of the project: "After first starting trials in January 2019, it is brilliant to see the first waste plastic highway take form in Carlisle.
"Implementing waste plastic roads across the country would provide a real opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of road construction. With ministers planning to spend over £27 billion on road building over the next five years, it's so important to make sure that construction is as environmentally-friendly as possible by decreasing carbon emissions and fossil fuels."
Cllr Keith Little, Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Highways, adds: "Working with our contractor Hanson, Cumbria is leading the way in the construction of plastic roads and there is a genuine worldwide interest in this ground-breaking material."
The road follows months of extensive trials in Cumbria taking place as part of the The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) SMART Places Live Labs programme, a £22.9 million initiative funded by the Department for Transport which invests in trialling the sustainability and suitability of using plastic waste additives in highway construction. Allocated £1.6 million, Cumbria is one of eight projects selected to carry out real world tests using new highways technology and methods on local roads.
First founded in 2016, MacRebur's mission is to help solve the waste plastic epidemic and the poor quality of roads we drive on around the world today. The idea for the business came about when CEO Toby McCartney was working in Southern India with a charity helping people who work on landfill sites to gather potentially reusable items and sell them. He noticed that some of the waste plastics retrieved by the pickers was put into potholes and set alight until it melted to form a makeshift plastic pothole filler. It sparked an idea to use waste plastic in roads here.
After years of tests and trials, MacRebur now promotes three waste plastic additives into asphalt. All of the products meet various worldwide roads standards and have been tested against standard asphalt, bitumen and Polymer Modified Bitumen.
The company point out there are no microplastics present in MacRebur roads – and they’ve carried out independent testing to make sure. That’s because they use plastic as a binder, so it melts
to create a sticky substance without leaving behind any troublesome particles that can be washed into road drains later.
MacRebur are keen to point out that their business is not a case of burying rubbish in our roads – in fact, at the end of their life, they point out the roads can be recycled so the plastic waste is used over and over again.
To date, roads using MacRebur's technology have been built in countries including England, Ireland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, South Africa, Turkey, and Chile.