How Bristol’s pothole problem could be solved by building plastic roads

Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post Newspaper on 9th January 2019 (also featured on on 13th January 2019).


Land and planning expert Stephen Fear explains why he thinks the city should start building plastic roads.

Business owner and land and planning expert Stephen Fear explains why Bristol should consider building plastic roads to solve its pothole problem…

At first you might find this statement unlikely, but the fact is that plastic roads are a real possibility, with this exciting new process gaining acceptance across the world.

It is estimated that the UK has over two million potholes, which cause huge damage to cars and commercial vehicles and naturally irritate cyclists. They can also be very dangerous for motorcyclists travelling at speed.

The problem is the cost of repair or relaying our roads when there are so many other things to spend public money on.

Together with the delays caused by the process, it’s easy to see why it is put off for as long as possible.

Local authorities are responsible for nine out of 10 miles of road; the National Highways Agency only looks after major trunk roads and motorways.

Councils across the UK fill in over a million potholes a year, and that number is growing year on year.

I walked down Waterloo Street in Clifton Village over Christmas, which is littered with white markings indicating that Bristol City Council are about to do some pothole filling.

This is costly work! So is there a better and longer-lasting material than tarmac?

The answer is almost certainly ‘yes’, and it may have environmental benefits too.

The solution may lay in waste plastic. Plastic is an amazing material with so many uses but it doesn’t break down easily and often finds its way into our oceans and ultimately into the food chain.

Maybe, though, the answer to this problem lies in future road building. Plastic roads are already being built in several places around the world.

Traditional road construction uses an asphalt concrete mix whereas plastic roads add plastic melted down into beads to form a much tougher binding agent.

It is said that plastic roads can cost 20 per cent less to build and last up to three times as long, therefore reducing future pothole issues.

The huge matter of disposing of post-consumer plastics is growing exponentially, so can plastic roads help reduce the problem? I believe they can.

While there are no current examples of roads made purely of plastic there are many examples of plastic waste being added to the mix to create a more durable and longer-lasting road surface.

Plastic roads can withstand temperature variances between minus or plus 40 degrees.

The process involves collecting post-consumer plastics, which are then shredded and melted at 170 degrees Celsius and added to the hot bitumen.

The mix is then laid as one would with asphalt concrete.

Anyone watching David Attenborough presenting his famous television programme Blue Planet will know how important it is that we find proper uses for post-consumer plastic waste.

Using the material to construct long-lasting roads is almost certainly one answer to this conundrum and one which should be enthusiastically pursued in my opinion.

I’m absolutely certain that even more people would recycle plastic if they knew it was being used for a useful purpose such as road building.

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