Work begins on South Africa’s first plastic road

The Kouga Municipality in the Eastern Cape has begun work on South Africa’s first plastic road.

On Monday (5 August), the municipality said that it has begun installing new stormwater pipes with work expected to be completed in the next three months.

The idea of a plastic road was first mooted by the DA-led municipality as far back as 2016, with the project officially receiving approval at the start of 2019.

Horatio Hendricks, executive mayor of Kouga Municipality, said the local authority had entered a partnership with Scottish company MacRebur and South African civil engineering experts to build ‘the first plastic road’ in Jeffrey’s Bay.

“The backlog in road repairs for our region is estimated to be more than R500-million. While Kouga is strong financially, we simply do not have the rates base to deal with this backlog decisively,” Hendricks said.

MacRebur – which has already tested plastic roads in the United Kingdom and other countries across the globe – will head up the project.

They will receive assistance from Port Elizabeth-based civil engineering and construction companies SP Excel and Scribante Construction.

Hendricks said Kouga was looking forward to the potential benefits of the trial.

“Poor roads have a devastating impact on communities. It’s not only a danger to motorists it is also bad for the economy as it scares off potential investors and makes it difficult for existing businesses to ply their trade.”

He said should the trial be successful, the municipality would like to see a factory being established in Kouga to produce the pellets locally.

The DA touted the new road in a series of tweets on Monday.

How it’s made

According to MacRebur’s website, its products are made using materials derived from non-recyclable waste plastic that was destined for landfill or incineration.

“By extending part of the bitumen in the mix MacRebur products reduce fossil fuel usage, leading to a reduction in carbon footprint and helping to foster a circular economy.

“With each km of road laid using our MR products, we use up the equivalent weight of 684,000 bottles or 1.8 million one time use plastic bags. 1 tonne of MacRebur mix contains the equivalent of 80,000 plastic bottles.”

Vicky Knoetze, a member of the Eastern Cape Legislature, said what MacRebur offered was an enhancement of the asphalt mix traditionally used for the top layer of roads.

“Non-recyclable plastic waste, which ends up in the ocean or clogging up landfill sites, is processed into pellets and used to replace a large component of the bitumen in a conventional asphalt mix.

“The result is a road that is stronger and more durable. Water, the main cause of potholes, does not penetrate it as easily as with traditional asphalt mixes and it is also more heat resistant,” she said.

South African road crisis

According to economist Mike Schüssler, South Africa’s total road network replacement cost is estimated at R2.75 trillion in today’s money.

The average road needs to be replaced every 20 years. If we replace the roads linearly over 20 years, we would have to pay R137.5 billion, per year, for the next 20 years, he said.

“To grow the road network just 1% a year would require about R27.5 billion,” he said, putting total road funding required from motorists, without any leakage from collection, at R165 billion.

The R165 billion is, however, only for roads and not for public transport.

In total, road users may have to fund another R19 billion to R21 billion a year for the public transport component. This increases the total costs that road users would have to finance to approximately R186 billion.

Schüssler said South Africa generally builds cheaper roads than Northern hemisphere countries. However, constructed with less bitumen, our roads have higher maintenance requirements.


Read: 3 changes coming to South African roads that you should know about

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Work begins on South Africa’s first plastic road