It looks like a normal road, feels like a normal road and cars drive on it like they would on any other highway. 

But a nondescript stretch of asphalt recently laid in a housing development in Elgin could be an important step in saving the planet from plastic pollution. 

Made by a Scottish company, it contains 20 tonnes of recycled plastic – the equivalent to 17,042 plastic bags or 6,000 plastic bottles – which would normally be consigned to landfill or incinerated. 

It is the first time the environmentally-friendly surface has been used in a housing development, and housebuilder Springfield Properties hopes that others will follow suit as the industry makes a concerted push to become more sustainable. 

For the project Springfield teamed up with MacRebur, who have developed and patented a way to use waste plastic in roads, alongside asphalt producer
Pat Munro. 

MacRebur uses everyday plastic waste such as bags and bottles, turning them into granules which are mixed with a special activator, reducing the amount of fossil fuel required in asphalt production.

The new surface in indiscernible from other roads but, thanks to the flexible properties of plastic, it has increased durability and longevity as well as its green credentials. 

Springfield Properties chief executive Innes Smith said: “Exploring ways to protect the environment has been a Springfield focus for some time now and over the years we have implemented a number of green policies.

“Last year, we stopped using plastic cups in our offices and installed electric car charging points for our staff. This led to the installation of cabling for electric car charging points in all our private homes.

“Encouraging our staff is an important part of the Springfield ethos. This includes taking the time to explore new ideas our employees may have. These ideas can come from anywhere – ideas about roads don’t just have to come from the civil engineering team.”

MacRebur is the brainchild of engineer Toby McCartney, who came up the idea after working in India, where people use melted plastic to fill potholes in rutted roads.

From a factory in Lockerbie, he developed the process to turn waste plastic into a new form of road surface during an 18-month process which saw hundreds of trials to identify the right way to bond plastic and asphalt without it breaking down and leaching out into the surrounding land.

MacRebur also reduces the amount of bitumen needed in the asphalt mix. For every tonne of bitumen replaced, the road surfacing carbon footprint is reduced by a tonne of carbon dioxide. Every year 270 million tonnes of plastic are produced worldwide, a number set to double in the coming decades.

But almost half will end up discarded and in landfill – with around 10-20m tonnes washed into the sea from every coastline in the world.

Estimates vary, but some studies have suggested that around 300 trillion individual items of plastic – including microbeads and broken down “mermaid tears” from bigger items – have accumulated in the world’s oceans since plastic was first used just a century ago.

The idea to use MacRebur in Elgin came from Springfield’s press and events co-ordinator Dale Ashelford, who said: “We have an ethos at Springfield where employees are given opportunities to develop wherever possible. When I pitched the recycled plastic roads idea, I was encouraged to take the idea forward myself. 

“Despite having no civil engineering experience, I worked with the team to bring the idea to fruition.

“It’s been a great project to get my teeth into and it’s exciting to have, what I’m sure will be the first of many, plastic roads in Springfield developments.”
Sarah Lakin, contracts manager for MacRebur, said she was delighted to work with Springfield on the project. 

She said: “At MacRebur, we have worked with household names in the commercial sector, the Department for Transport, Highways England and councils to use our product in everything from roads to car parks and racetracks to runways.

“We also hope this pioneering project will inspire other developers in Scotland to follow Springfield’s lead as our product is available across the country as well as the UK and abroad.”