Are plastic roads the answer to the curse of plastic waste in our oceans?
It is encouraging to see how major television networks are beginning to focus on the environmental challenges facing future generations, caused by the failures of past and present generations.
Sky News in 2017 launched a series called ‘Ocean Rescue’, exploring how the catastrophic pollution of our oceans, particularly through plastic produce, might be salvaged. And the BBC has produced a short documentary which looks at how a Scottish engineer, inspired by his young daughter and a visit to India, is showing how plastic waste can be used to repair and build roads.
John Ryley, head of Sky News, was inspired by his son. After consuming a plateful of North Sea mussels, his son, a trainee marine biologist, wryly informed his father: “You’ve just eaten around three hundred pieces of plastic in the last 10 minutes.” “How?”
Ryley’s son went on to explain that it is now estimated North Sea mussels contain one particle of plastic per gram of tissue. “They get it from the seawater which is polluted with plastics from cosmetics, synthetic clothing, packaging etc.”
The young man then gave his father a crash course in ocean degradation:
- Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year;
- Plastic accounts for 97% of the rubbish in our oceans;
- It is estimated that 90% of the world’s seabirds have plastic in their stomachs;
- The equivalent of a rubbish truckload of single-use plastic household waste is dumped into the ocean every minute;
- An estimated 15-51 trillion microbeads are already adrift in the world’s oceans.
Ryley was hooked and so was born the idea of the Sky News ‘Ocean Rescue’ which you can access by clicking here:
The conundrum we are faced with is what to do with plastics – those already produced, in use, discarded and still to be created – given the non-biodegradable structure of the material. Plastics produced today will be with use, and future generations, for up to a thousand years.
The old adage ‘out of sight out of mind’ made the oceans the perfect dumping ground until, that is, plastic waste began to wash-up on the shorelines of every continent on earth, ruining pristine beaches and contaminating marine life and seabirds.
A possible solution might also have be inspired by the offspring of a Scottish engineer who lives just outside the town of Lockerbie, which last made world headlines on December 21, 1988, when a Pan Am Jumbo fell onto the town following a terrorist attack.
Toby McCartney’s daughter, when asked by a teacher, ‘what lives in the sea’, answered, ‘plastics Miss’. He told the BBC, “I don’t want my little girl growing up in a world where that is the case.”
Thinking of a solution to the problem he recalled a visit to India during which he observed local people filling potholes with waste plastic and burning it. This inspired him to develop his own industrial method.
He first experimented on his own driveway much to his delight. Now, despite being a start-up business, he has already won a major contract with Cumbria County Council.
McCartney takes tons of plastic waste and converts it into millions of beadlike pellets. The pellets are mixed with quarried rock, limestone, sand and substantially reduce the use of bitumen, a crude oil extract, sold by giant oil companies such as Shell and Total. “We use waste plastics and add it into an asphalt mix to create a strong, longer lasting pothole free road,” he confidently asserts.
McCartney claims there is the potential to solve two world problems. “The poor quality of roads we drive on and the waste plastic epidemic that we all see in the world today.”
The documentary states that there are 40 million kilometres of roads in the world, made using hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. “Would it be better to use waste plastic? To create plastic roads?”
While we must urgently reduce our use of plastics and eliminate its widely non-essential use, McCartney may have found a practical way of storing waste plastic without the use of landfills and the contamination of our oceans.
You can view the short 4-minute BBC documentary by clicking here: