Construction of new road made from waste plastic bags gets underway

Work to build the UK’s government’s first public road made from waste plastic has begun.

The brainchild of award-winning Scottish firm MacRebur, the road surface will be created from a mixture of traditional asphalt and thousands of discarded plastic bags.

The road, in the centre of Carlisle, is part of the ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs Programme - a £22.9 million initiative funded by the UK’s Department for Transport.

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The project will recycle the equivalent of approximately 238,958 single-use bags that would otherwise have been incinerated or gone to landfill.

Construction of the UK Department for Transport's first highway made from plastic waste has begun in Carlisle

The road will cover a combined area of more than 3,000 square metres in what is a first for the UK’s highway network.

The waste plastic is processed, granulated and combined with regular 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 no different from regular asphalt but will be more flexible due to the plastic content.

This means it can respond more effectively to contraction and expansion caused by changes in the weather, reducing the likelihood of cracks and potholes.

By replacing part of the bitumen normally used to produce asphalt with granulated waste plastic, MacRebur’s roads also require less fossil fuels and so produce lower carbon emissions.

MacRebur chief executive Toby McCartney said: “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.”

Cumbria County Council cabinet member for highways Keith Little said: “The county council is investing around £150,000 in resurfacing works on Lowther Street, which will make journeys smoother and safer for drivers.

“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 new road follows extensive trials in Cumbria, carried out as part of the ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs programme, which invests in trialling the sustainability and suitability of using plastic waste additives in highway construction.

The Cumbria project, allocated £1.6 million, is one of eight selected to carry out real-world tests using new highways technology and methods on local roads.

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