There’s a fork in the climate crisis road: continue down a devastating path of waste, or look for creative solutions. In this case, that choice lies in the road itself.
Creativity is problem-solving. And if there was one problem every single one of us knew was impacting the climate, it’d be plastic. We’re using obscene amounts of it (one staggering statistic states that of all plastic produced in the last 70 years, only 10% of it has been recycled), and more often than not just the once. Our selfishly profligate use of something we know to be the root of much evil has to change, but what about those mountains of it already here, unable to be recycled? Let creativity take you on a journey.
On 11 September, 2018, a short bicycle lane in The Netherlands opened. So far so normal, the famously flat country is home to the world’s largest number of cycles; Amsterdam boasting more than 500 km of such lanes, with 50% of the city’s total commuting done by pedal power. What caught international attention, however, was how that 30 metre bike lane was created: 70% recycled plastic. On the road to significant change, why not look at the road itself?
You see, both bitumen and plastic are polymers, consisting of strands of molecules bound firmly together. Where plastic is derived from petrochemicals, bitumen is a byproduct of refining oil. Both are strong, and both last an awfully long time. Ideal for road-making. As it stands, many of today’s roads are produced by hot bitumen binding together aggregates made from broken rocks and stones, a substance you’ll know as asphalt. But what if we traded one powerful polymer for another?
Late last year, Conglomerate San Miguel Corporation (SMC) laid the Philippines’ first recycled plastics road. Swapping out bitumen for some of the incredible amount of plastic on its way to landfills, rivers and oceans—some 900 kilos of it—a 1,500 square metre pilot road was put down, set to be tested by heavy-load trucks, including 18-wheelers and various heavy equipment.
The Southeast Asian archipelagic state’s largest company, San Miguel is currently building more than 900 billion pesos’ worth of its government’s flagship projects. With a construction boom planned that incorporates major highways, bridges and dams, and a 2,400-hectare airport set to be the country’s largest, sustainable experimentation on this level is an eye-opening proposition.
Meanwhile, Scottish company MacRebur is another name to watch on the plastic roading scene; the enterprise born when CEO Toby McCartney discovered, during a charity trip, that Southern Indian locals were melting waste plastic into roads to fix potholes. Fast forward some years of testing and trials, and the Lockerbie-based company are promoting three products that use plastics on their way to landfill or incineration to reduce the volume of bitumen required in an asphalt mix. One tonne of MacRebur mix, they claim, contains the equivalent of 80,000 plastic bottles.
From Europe to Asia and back again, the world is watching. Reducing our plastic use is one thing, dealing with the copious amounts of it already in circulation is another. And creativity, as ever, is a key cog in the wheel.