It was a youthful musing of mine to look at the last remaining gravel road – McAdam Street in Newton Park and imagine that it was named for the inventor of the macadamised road – John Loudon McAdam, (born 21 September 1756, in Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland and died 26 November 1836, in Moffat, Dumfriesshire). McAdam was the Scottish inventor of the macadam road surface. Macadamising – a type of road construction – was pioneered by this Scottish engineer around 1820.
McAdam Street stayed as a gravel (macadamised) road cutting through 2nd Avenue at an angle for the longest time.
The quirky thought about McAdam Road in Newton Park is that is was the last road in that area to be tarred over – almost as if a Port Elizabeth Roads Engineer had a twisted sense of humour/loyalty to this pioneer of what was basically a gravel road.
Let’s not confuse tarring with the process of macadamising, in which single-sized crushed stone layers of small angular stones are placed in shallow lifts and compacted thoroughly. A binding layer of stone dust (crushed stone from the original material) may form. It may also, after rolling, be covered with a binder to keep dust and stones together.
The man who invented Tarmac was Nottinghamshire county surveyor, Edgar Hooley, who managed to make road surfaces stick.
At the time of his discovery in 1901, Hooley was working as a surveyor for Nottinghamshire County. It was whilst he was walking in Denby, Derbyshire when he noticed a smooth stretch of road close to an ironworks. He asked locals what had happened and was told a barrel of tar had fallen from a dray and burst open. Someone had poured waste slag from the nearby furnaces to cover up the mess. Hooley noticed this unintentional resurfacing had solidified the road – there was no rutting and no dust. By 1902 Hooley had patented the process of heating tar, adding slag to the mix and then breaking stones within the mixture to form a smooth road surface.
Unable to market his invention, Hooley sold his company to a Sir Alfred Hickman who launched the Tarmac Compamny in 1905 which is still in operation today.
And now today there are over 40 Million Kilometres of roads in the world made using hundreds of millions of barrels of OIL. Tarred roads consist of about 90 percent rocks, limestone and sand combined with up to 10 percent bitumen to bind the mixture. Bitumen is extracted from crude oil.
There are a number of companies, individuals and even political parties that are promising to be the ‘disruptors’ in the bitumen tarred road industry, and their proposals all hinge around the use of waste plastic replacing the fossil fuel presently used to make our roads.
Some efforts include:
- In an echo of the pioneering work done by McAdam – on a farm outside Lockerbie in Scotland, engineer Toby McCartney came up with the idea of using waste plastic added to an asphalt mix to create stronger, longer lasting, pothole free roads. McCartney’s company MacRebur, turns plastic waste into pellets that replace a significant part of the bitumen thus reducing oil consumption. The pellets are made from household waste as well as commercial and farm plastic waste which is normally destined for landfills or incinerated. He has dubbed his “secret” material MR6.
- The ‘Plastic Man’ of India, Prof Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Professor of Chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai developed the technology for India’s Plastic Road Network. The construction process is extremely eco-friendly as no toxic gases are released. In November 2015 India made it mandatory for all road developers in the country to use waste plastic, combined with bituminous mixes, for road construction. In January 2018, Dr Vasudevan was honoured with one of India’s highest civilian awards, the Padma Shri, for his groundbreaking research on re-using waste plastic.
- In Holland the Volker Wessels compnay has 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. They are the ideal sustainable alternative to conventional road structures. The roads are 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 whilst a hollow space under the road allows for stormwater, cables, pipes etc.
India’s first plastic road was built in 2002 in Chennai. According to reports; “Fifteen years later, the road, Jambulingam Street, has yet to show any signs of wear and tear that typical roads tend to, such as cracks and potholes.”
Throughout India, an estimated 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) of road has been constructed with recycled plastic, with a large majority of these plastic roads in rural areas.
In November 2015 it was made mandatory in India for all road developers in the country to use waste plastic, combined with bituminous mixes, for road construction.
A 2017 World Economic Forum report stated that more than 33 796 km of roads in India are plastic roads. In October of 2017, the Indian government announced an investment of 6.9 trillion rupees (arouind R156 billion) to build 83 677 km of roads over the next five years.
A regular road requires 10 tonnes of bitumen for each kilometre. A plastic road however, requires only nine tonnes of bitumen and one tonne of waste plastic for coating. So, for every km, the plastic roads save as much as one tonne of bitumen.
Closer to home – Vicky Knoetze, who is a member of the Roads & public Works, Health, Finance Committee in the DA Provincial Legislature, Eastern Cape, is a strong advocate for plastic road adoption in the Eastern Cape.
Knoetze says; “A kilometre of this road will use about 1 million plastic bags and it will be 70% faster to build. They will also last three times longer because these roads in India and the UK are showing no signs of potholes or cracks.” According to Knoetze; “Another of the benefits is job creation, as thousands of people will be needed to sort the plastic for reuse in the road projects.”
If is going to save fossil fuels and clean up our environment then plastic roads are a no-brainer.
BUT it would appear that even though we have no-brainers in charge of our provincial government even they cannot see the benefit……
On the other side of the fence, though, Nityanand Jayaraman says that ‘miracle plastic roads’ are NOT a solution to our problem.
Jayaraman cites a number of concerns including:
- By making it seem as if there is a safe, sustainable and efficient way of disposing plastics, interventions such as this tend to take the focus off the steadily mounting plastics crisis.
- Far from being a solution to plastic pollution, plastic road-making itself is a source of pollution.
- Theoretically, it should be possible to keep the super-toxic PVC from contaminating the plastic feedstock for road-laying. PVC is virtually indistinguishable from other plastics. The volume of plastics required for road laying makes it virtually impossible to ensure that PVC is kept out.
- The type of plastic preferred is not the tye of plastic targeted by ragpickers due to it’s light weight and low price.
- Putting the plastics in roads does not make plastics disappear. They are merely hiding. Over time, as the road weathers, the plastic too breaks down into micro particles of plastic and enter the environment. Scientific studies have found more microplastics than plankton in oceans.
- Why are we destroying resources that we should be sharing with the future generations? Plastics are made out of petroleum – a finite non-renewable resource.
At the end of the day we need to completely phase out plastics and the use thereof.
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