The war against plastic is gathering force.

Environmentalists have made it clear: the continuing use of plastics bodes badly for Planet Earth. It is gratifying to learn that the initiatives to eliminate or reduce the use of plastics are gathering speed and popularity. For example, Starbucks aim to remove plastic straws from their global stores by 2020. Some restaurants have taken the plunge and are offering customers stainless steel or cardboard straws.

The world’s oceans are filling up with plastic and this can no longer be ignored. Consumers, for the most part, are woefully unaware. Others are indifferent to the knowledge that the array of plastics they use, and then discard, often end up in the ocean. If eradication isn’t on the table, perhaps a better use for the discarded plastic exists — a permanent home other than landfill or the ocean.

Engineers have been busy devising a solution.

Plastic Roads
Source: BBC, YouTube

200,000 plastic bags and 63,000 glass bottles that would have otherwise been discarded in a landfill, have been used in the laying of a road in Craigieburn, a suburb in Melbourne, Australia.

According to BBC News, there are 40 million kilometers of roads in the world. In most third world countries, road infrastructure could mean continued industrialization and more prosperity. And if plastic could be recycled and used for road infrastructure globally, that could really assist in finding a place for waste worldwide.

What is the best way to recycle plastic and re-use it in road-building?

Engineers have come to the rescue

Scottish engineering start-up MacRebur has suggested turning plastics into pellets and then mixing them into tar mixtures.

Engineer Toby McCartney told BBC:

“How can we solve two world problems? The poor quality of roads we drive on and the waste plastic epidemic that we all see in the world today. We use waste plastics to add into an asphalt mix to create a stronger, longer lasting, pothole free road.”

He was initially inspired by a practice he saw forming in India. People would throw waste plastics into potholes and burn the plastics to plug the pothole.

To improve on the system, his engineering startup began to make plastic pellets out of waste plastics. The pellets are mixed with bitumen and it results in a stronger road that needs less maintenance.

According to Gulf News, in 2017, already 100,000 kilometers of road in India were built using recycled plastic waste. A World Economic Forum report had previously underestimated the number to be 33,768 kilometers.

Remodeling plastic pellets out of recycled plastic waste is a more recent initiative. Unfortunately, McCartney is keeping the company’s method a secret.  But engineering genius is broad and engineers determined – a range of approaches to recycling plastics will no doubt emerge.

Safer roads and a use for plastic waste will indeed be another couple of feathers in the caps of creative engineers at work.


Works Cited

Report, Gulf News Web. “Watch: Building Roads from Plastic Waste in India.” GulfNews, Gulfnews, 12 Nov. 2017, gulfnews.com/news/asia/india/watch-building-roads-from-plastic-waste-in-india-1.2122745.

bbcnews. “Can Plastic Roads Help Save the Planet? BBC News.” YouTube, YouTube, 25 Apr. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHWYoDKYnQo.

The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring our students receive a world-class education and gain skills they can immediately implement in the workplace upon graduation. Our staff members uphold our ethos of honesty and integrity, and we stand by our word because it is our bond. Our students are also expected to carry this attitude throughout their time at our institute, and into their careers.