Cumbria County Council: Trialling innovative new plastic in roads products

Over the last five years, Cumbria County Council has been successfully trialling revolutionary new ‘plastic’ products designed to make road surfaces stronger, more durable and more environmentally friendly. Working with MacRebur and Shell as part of the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme, the council has introduced ‘plastic’ roads around the county using products which replace some of the bitumen with recycled waste plastic. They are the first in the world to trial MacRebur’s product and the first in Europe to trial Shell’s.


The challenge

The highways industry has significant environmental impact in terms of carbon footprint, use of oil-based products, and the use of quarried material. Cumbria County Council and its partners believe it is incumbent upon us as an industry to seek new and innovative ways to reduce environmental damage.

By using products which replace some of the bitumen with recycled waste plastic, which would otherwise be destined for landfill or incineration, savings can be made in both production costs and disposal costs. Research suggests that using this new technology could also lengthen the life cycle of the road, reducing the frequency of resurfacing.

The solution

Cumbria County Council are working together with partners as part of the ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs Programme, a £22.9 million initiative funded by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Cumbria, allocated £1.6m, is one of just eight local authorities in the country - and the only one in the North of England - to be selected as part of the Live Labs programme to carry out real world tests using new highways technology and methods on local roads which could revolutionise the highways and waste industry.

Cumbria’s Live Lab project is investigating the sustainability and suitability of using additives derived from waste plastics as part of their highways surfacing programme to reduce its carbon footprint and provide a more resilient road network.

The impact

The products provide an opportunity to reduce both the carbon footprint of road construction and the life costs of roads. This is achieved by reducing the amount of bitumen needed in the asphalt mix, and the potential reduction of ongoing maintenance work due to the enhanced performance of the road.

The Shell Bitumen LTR binder, for example, uses a chemically modified waste plastic, which makes it compatible with bitumen and enables asphalt to be produced and installed at lower temperatures. As well as developing a beneficial use for plastic at the end of its life, it also helps lower carbon emissions through reduced energy use during asphalt production.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Over the next few years, Cumbria County Council will continue to work with MacRebur and Shell, and feed back to the Live Labs Programme and DfT. The ‘plastic’ roads will be monitored and a plan to roll out the process to other roads in the county will be developed and implemented.

Lessons learned

  • Procurement challenges as a result of working with companies not on the council's framework as part of the research.
  • Stakeholder liaison and engagement such as ensuring the public fully understand the purpose of the project or liaising with parties within the project with conflicting interests. This can be overcome through clear communication and explanation.

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