Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape is best known as a top surf spot, home to the perfect wave. The J-Bay Open is one of the stops on the Men’s Surfing Championship Tour, and boasts the longest right-hand point break on the planet.
This laid-back town has a huge eco-friendly heart and a forward-thinking municipality. Not only have they successfully implemented regular beach clean-ups, fishing line bins, recycling projects and a magnificent dune restoration project using indigenous aloes, they will also be the first town in South Africa – and Africa – to trial a plastic road.
Vicky Knoetze, a DA MPL, introduced the idea to the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature in 2017.
What is a plastic road?
A regular road has a top layer of asphalt. Asphalt is made by mixing stone, sand, gravel and bitumen, with bitumen accounting for about 10% of the total mix. In a plastic road, 6% of the bitumen content is replaced/extended with waste plastics in the form of tiny plastic pellets.
This groundbreaking initiative is a joint project by Kouga Municipality and MacRebur SA, together with Port Elizabeth-based civil engineering and construction experts SP Excel and Scribante Construction.
‘It is this product, developed by a Scottish company called MacRebur, that is set to revolutionise the way roads are built,’ said Knoetze.
Work has already started on a one-kilometre stretch of Woltemade and Koraal streets in Jeffreys Bay.
‘The result is a road that is stronger and more durable. Water, the main cause of potholes, does not penetrate it as easily, and it is also more heat resistant. The plastic road surface is also cheaper to maintain.
‘Should the trial be successful, we would like to see a factory being built to produce the pellets locally. This would create work at the factory, and also create a way for communities to make money by collecting and selling plastic waste.
‘This will be a triple win for our people – better roads, less pollution and more job opportunities,’ explained Kouga Mayor Horatio Hendricks.
The plastic used to make the plastic pellets is all waste – no new or recycled plastic is used.
The pellets are taken to the MacRebur plant in Lockerbie in Scotland, where they are washed and put through two cycles in a granulator to create small pieces no bigger than 5mm. The granules are mixed with MacRebur’s secret patented activator that allows the plastics to bind with the road. No microplastics are found in the final product.
The triple bottom line, and what it could mean for estates in South Africa
For developers, planners and estate managers, plastic roads should be a no-brainer, offering a triple bottom line with a great feel-good factor.
New estates can make substantial savings by constructing roads, pavements, car parks and driveways with the cheaper, plastic-enhanced bitumen, and existing estates can certainly benefit by using this method for repairs and resurfacing.
As the plastic roads are also stronger, longer-lasting and more flexible than standard bitumen, maintenance costs are reduced.
As an added bonus, after 20 years or more, if the plastic road needs replacing, it can be recycled.
From a planet-friendly perspective, every kilometre of plastic road saves the equivalent of 1.8 million single-use plastic bags or 684,000 plastic bottles from going to a landfill.
Independent laboratory testing has shown that no plastic is leached into the environment through water run-off, and – even in hot conditions – no toxic fumes are emitted.
The plastic roads look exactly the same as other roads, and do not require specialist equipment or construction methods.
By extending part of the bitumen in the mix, MacRebur products reduce fossil fuel usage, leading to a reduction in carbon footprint and helping to foster a circular economy.