Kent roads are rubbish with new resurfacing venture

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PLASTIC waste which would otherwise have gone to landfill or incineration is being used to resurface roads for the first time in Kent.

In a trial across Kent and Surrey, UK Power Networks and Stanmore Quality Surfacing will use 17 tonnes of asphalt containing the equivalent of 14,571 single-use carrier bags or 5,100 plastic bottles to resurface roads and pavements after roadworks.

“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”, Mark Baker, senior ground works manager at UK Power Networks, said.

“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.”

The product used in the trial 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.

“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”, Toby McCartney, chief executive of MacRebur, said.

The trial, partly funded by Kent Lane Rental Innovation Fund, will prevent 51kg of plastic being incinerated or sent to landfill, saving 160kg in carbon dioxide emissions.

“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”, Mike Whiting, Kent County Council cabinet member for highways, waste and the environment, commented.

“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.”

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.