Africa’s first plastic road

The first plastic road in Africa is set to be built in the town of Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. J-Bay, as the town is affectionately known as by locals, is perhaps more famous for its waves and hosting of the annual J-Bay Pro professional surfing tournament than it is for sustainability initiatives.

However, with a backlog of over R500 million (approx. USD 7.2 million) in road repairs, the town and region have been forced to look for alternative options. Says the Major of the local Kouga Municipality, Horatio Hendricks, “We simply do not have the rates-base to deal with this backlog decisively. The DA [(Democratic Alliance)]-led Kouga Council has, therefore, been looking for innovative ways to slay this giant since taking power in the municipality in 2016.”

The proposed road is set to be one kilometre at length and will be of no cost to the municipality, as the project partners will be covering the costs. The products used by the manufacturer, MacRebur, use the equivalent of 684,000 plastic bottles or 1.8 million tonnes of single use plastic bags for each kilometre of road they lay, or 80,000 bottles per tonne of their product mix.

While there is plenty of plastic waste in South Africa, it has not (yet) been collected, shredded and converted into the pellets needed to construct plastic roads, meaning that for the time being the pellets created from plastic waste used to build such roads must be imported.

However, if the trial is successful Mayor Hendricks wishes to see a local facility being set up to collect and convert plastic waste materials. According to Hendricks, “In this way, it will be a triple win for our people – better roads, less pollution and more job opportunities.”

Apart from promoting a circular economy and helping to reduce the amount of plastic waste that would otherwise be sent to landfills or incinerated, plastic roads have other advantages, as plastic road surface can be easier and cheaper to maintain, and water (the main cause of potholes) cannot penetrate cracks as easily.

Using plastics to build roads is becoming increasingly common in both developed and developing countries alike. In 2018, plans were announced to build roads made from recycled plastic waste in Australia and the United States. In Europe, plans for plastic roads have been announced or are currently being trialed in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, amongst other nations.

In India, Better World Solutions reports that more than 34,000 kms of plastic roads have already been built, using waste collected from the ocean. In Kerala, India’s southern state, the local fisheries minister J. Mercykutty Amma, launched a campaign called Suchitwa Sagaram (Clean Sea) which trains local fishermen to collect plastic waste in the ocean and bring it back to shore.

In the campaign’s first ten months, 25 tonnes of plastic waste were removed from the Arabian Sea including 10 tonnes of plastic bags and bottles. Once the waste comes ashore, people from the local fishing community (all of whom are women except for two) collect it from the fishermen and feed it into a plastic shredding machine. The shredded plastic is then converted into a material which can be used for road surfacing.

The Guardian claims, “We are on the edge of a plastic calamity.” Individuals, communities and countries alike not only need to reduce the amount of plastics we use but also find innovative ways for recycling and reusing the plastic we have already manufactured. Plastic roads are just one such innovative example, but better and more widespread recycling systems and more innovative circular economy plastics initiatives will also be required.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on May 7, 2019.


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