The trial will see the waste plastic asphalt used to resurface roads and pavements after roadworks, cutting carbon emissions and potentially costs.
The joint project is being led by Britain’s biggest electricity distributor, UK Power Networks which carries out roadworks to install, maintain and upgrade the cables delivering power to local homes and businesses, with reinstatement contractor Stanmore Quality Surfacing (SQS), in partnership with Kent and Surrey county councils.
The innovative product was developed and patented by Scottish company MacRebur and has been used to substitute part of the oil-based bitumen binder used in asphalt in the trial, using less fossil fuel. The bitumen is replaced by plastic collected from a mixture of commercial and household waste including packaging, wrappings, containers and lids to make asphalt that its creators say can cope better with contraction and expansion caused by changes in the weather, reducing cracks and potholes, while benefiting the environment.
In the trial across Kent and Surrey, UK Power Networks and SQS will use 17 tonnes of asphalt containing the equivalent of 14,571 single use carrier bags or 5,100 plastic bottles. The trial will prevent 51kg of plastic being incinerated or sent to landfill, saving 160kg in carbon dioxide emissions.
The team is trialling the new surface following electricity street works in Bath Road, Willesborough, Ashford, on Friday (October 11).
Mark Baker, senior groundworks manager at UK Power Networks, said: “This is the first time waste plastic has been used on Kent’s street works and if tests prove successful, this could pave the way for wider use by other utilities.
“We’re always searching for innovative ways to reduce our environmental impact. In future, when we dig up the roads to upgrade, repair or make connections to our electricity networks, we could also be reducing the amount of plastic burnt or sent to landfill.”
Daniel O’Mara, director of street works at SQS, said: “This is the first major UK trial of this material constructed by hand. Hand lay reinstatements make up a significant proportion of the 2-3 million utility and highway authority excavations dug annually in the UK, so it is vital we understand its workability and performance.
“We already produce 100% recycled granular materials which fill utility holes and remove the need for quarried, virgin stone. To be able to surface these works with another alternative material, containing a recycled constituent, is fantastic, and anything anyone can do to make an impact on the waste plastic epidemic the world faces, is a positive.”
Kent Lane Rental Innovation Fund has contributed to the cost of the trial. KCC cabinet member for highways, waste and the environment Mike Whiting said: “It is widely reported across the UK that landfill is still a method of general waste disposal – something I am pleased to say is not the case in Kent. Over 99% of the waste dealt with by us is recycled, turned into power or composted.
“With the increasing necessity to cut down and recycle plastics, I am very pleased to see that waste that could have been destined for landfill elsewhere in the UK is being used in an innovative and sustainable way on our roads in Kent.
“Not only is this road surface supporting the environment, but its creators say it can cope better with the changes in weather, cutting down on the number of cracks and potholes that it can cause.”
Toby McCartney, chief executive of MacRebur, said: “We are delighted that our product is being used in this new area of the UK for the first time. Every time a road is dug up for utilities work, MacRebur can be used to prevent waste plastic from going to landfill or incineration in the asphalt repair. This project therefore represents an excellent opportunity for essential infrastructure work to also be used to help protect the environment.”
The new road surface will be tested to ensure it is safe, strong and durable. If tests are successful SQS will work with asphalt suppliers to understand if it can be used more widely.
UK Power Networks is exploring other ways to reduce and reuse plastic, partly as a result of employee feedback that they want to work more sustainably. In the last year operational staff using reusable water bottles have used 200,000 fewer single-use plastic water bottles than the same period the year before.