Road revolution on the cards for SA

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South Africa’s battle against plastic pollution may have found a solution in the form of plastic roads. The Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Eastern Cape has announced a pilot project that would see a 1km stretch of road in Jeffreys Bay being built with new technology that involves recycled plastic.

Road revolution on the cards for SAAccording to the DA’s Vicky Knoetze, a kilometre of road using this technology will use about one million plastic bags and will be 70% faster to build. Plastic roads also last three times longer than traditional tarmac.

The new technology uses recycled plastic to replace the bitumen used in traditional road building, and has proved to be extremely effective in the UK and India where it has been used already. These roads have shown no signs of potholes or cracks within a couple of years of being built.

Using waste plastics destined for landfill or incineration, one of the technologies used in the construction of plastic roads was developed by the ‘Plastic Man’ of India, Prof. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Professor of Chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai. A Dutch company, Volker Wessels, has also come up with a design for roads made entirely from recycled plastic.

These plastic roads have a long lifespan, are virtually maintenance free and are quick and easy to assemble and construct. The roads are made from recycled plastic which is made into prefabricated road parts that can be installed in one piece. The prefabrication and lightweight design make the construction of the roads much simpler and quicker.

Scottish engineer and CEO Toby McCartney was inspired by the Indian successes to come up with his own solution, which he called MR6. MR6 is the technology that would be used in the Eastern Cape pilot project, produced by his company, MacRebur. MR6 is made from household waste as well as commercial and farm plastic waste.

MacRebur has offered to conduct the local pilot project at no cost to the Kouga municipality. Port Elizabeth-based SP Excel and Scribante Construction have signed on as the local civil engineering and construction partners.

Knoetze, a member of the Eastern Cape Legislature, first introduced the idea of plastic roads in the country to the Provincial Legislature in 2017. Her motion was rejected at the time, but the pilot was agreed following a meeting between the Kouga municipality and MacRebur. However, some reports indicate that despite the announcement of this game-changing initiative, it has once again been set aside by the provincial legislature.

If this this the case, South Africa is once again losing an opportunity to be a world leader in using innovative technologies. Not only is it a perfect way for us to take plastic out of our oceans and landfills and use it for something worthwhile, it has knock-on effects such as lower maintenance costs and improved fuel consumption for the cars driving on plastic roads. This pilot project would be the first in Africa, and one of only a few in the world, where building roads would help the environment rather than harm it.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.