In Brief
An engineer has developed a way to use waste plastic as a binding agent in asphalt, replacing most of the conventional bitumen, an oil product. His method reduces plastic waste, decreases the need for oil, and creates longer-lasting roads.

Engineer Toby McCartney wants to use recycled plastic instead of oil to repair some of the world’s 40 million kilometers (24.8 million miles) of road. The idea would solve more than one problem: poor road quality, the continued use of fossil fuels, and the waste plastic epidemic. His Scottish start-up, MacRebur, mixes waste plastic into asphalt to create roads that last longer and are less prone to getting potholes.

McCartney’s mix replaces most of the bitumen, a material extracted from oil, that is used as a binding agent in normal roads with plastic pellets. The pellets are made from waste that is destined for landfills, such as the polyethylene that is used in packaging. The plastic waste pellets are then mixed with the usual rocks and a small amount of bitumen at the asphalt plant. The process is exactly the same, no plants don’t need any new equipment.

McCartney has already persuaded two English councils to start using their local waste plastics to build their roads this way. He says these roads are cheaper to make and last longer than conventional roads, and if he’s right, he may be putting us on the road to a cleaner planet.