Melting roads in 40°C heat! Could waste plastics be the answer?

The CEO of a small company reveals all

Net Hero Podcast

Temperatures across the UK are set to hit record levels today, after a red warning was issued for the first time for extreme weather.

Certain parts of the country will peak 40°C, leading many to worry whether infrastructure will be able to cope with the scorching sun.

Whether the roads will melt has been an anxiety of many British drivers – but what if this could not only be prevented, but done while protecting the environment?

I spoke with Toby McCartney; the CEO of a company looking to achieve just that.

Currently based in Turkey, Toby is the Co-Founder of MacRebur – a company looking to use waste plastics set for landfill to help build roads, not only making them stronger but more environmentally friendly.

He explained: “There’s waste plastics everywhere. But plastic is a really good thing, a really good product. The challenge is what to do with it once we’ve used it, it then goes to landfill and then incineration.

“We have the ability to take some of those waste plastics before they get to landfill – and we have a formula that allows us to use those waste plastics to replace bitumen, which is the black oil that you get in a road mix that sticks the stones together to form a road.”

What good does this do?

“It reduces carbon emissions because we use local waste for local roads and are not importing bitumen, we save about 11kg of carbon per one tonne of asphalt that’s made.

“We reduce the cost of the overall manufacturing of the asphalt, because oil prices are rising, bitumen prices are rising with it – but there’s so much plastic that it’s basically worthless, especially the plastics we source because they’re destined for landfill or incineration so they’re not recyclable.”

Why now?

“At the moment, the temperatures are rising and if you go out onto the streets, because a road is black, by its very nature it gets hotter than the air temperature.

“The bitumen effectively starts to melt. The problem with it melting is we then drive vehicles onto it with tyres and basically pull it up, it’s like stripping wallpaper almost and the bitumen sticks to the tyres.

“What we can do with waste plastics is we increase the melting temperature, so if it would melt at 60°C, we can put that up to 70°C or 80°C. So, there’s an extra 10°C that the temperature would need to get to on that road before it would even think about melting.”

Is it only good for the heat?

“Take the coldest temperatures, go to Canada in the winter, take a plastic water bottle and put that out in your garden but also take a cup of bitumen, black oil, and put that out in your garden.

“Then the next morning you come through and hit them both with a hammer. The bitumen’s going to shatter like a glass and the plastic bottle’s just going to bounce the hammer off it.”

When I asked Toby why he thought this idea hadn’t been taken to the next level yet, he said that countries need to change their road standards to accommodate the change. Moldova, Turkey and Latvia are some of the countries that have allowed for waste plastic to be used in roads but he said it will take a combination of larger countries and companies to take a chance on this environmental solution to see it truly thrive.

On the UK specifically

“There are such restrictions over the standards for roads and today these standards don’t include waste plastics, they only include bitumen. And because in the UK we import all of our bitumen, we don’t have any of our own oil – it’s imported by large oil companies.

“When these road standards were created, the oil companies were heavily involved.”