SA’s first plastic road was completed in Jeffreys Bay on Wednesday, pointing to exciting possibilities for job creation, waste and pollution reduction and cost-saving.
The 300m pilot stretch of Woltemade Street in the heart of the Eastern Cape holiday town began in March after mayor Horatio Hendricks agreed to the project and Scottish manufacturer Macrebur and Port Elizabeth-based companies SP Excel and Scribante came on board.
DA Eastern Cape legislature member Vicky Knoetze, who initiated the project, said she was thrilled and proud.
“The idea is to look at building roads in a different way and this is the first step,” she said.
“It presents a triple win for the province.
“It could create thousands of employment opportunities for mainly unskilled people, it could make significant strides in preventing waste plastic from entering the ocean and threatening marine life, and it could address the R100bn roads backlog in the Eastern Cape in a cost-effective manner.”
The project was born two years ago with a motion by the DA in the Bhisho legislature to test the feasibility and practicality of the plastic road-building technique which was already being used in The Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Scotland.
It was rejected by the majority of the members in the ANC-led legislature, however, so Knoetze took the proposal to the DA-led Kouga municipality.
She said a normal tar road in the Eastern Cape cost about R10m per kilometre to build and the estimate for Woltemade-Koraal streets once the full 3km stretch of plastic road was complete was that it would cost R1.5m per kilometre.
“This was a pilot so we had to import the shredded and treated plastic from Scotland but if we can generate demand by rolling this project out more widely then we can collect, sort, package and manufacture the base resource here creating many more jobs and reducing the price still further.”
She explained that for every kilometre of eco-friendly plastic road, 1.5 tons of waste plastic — the equivalent of 1.8 million plastic bags — would be used.
“That means for this 300m pilot we have already used about 500,000 plastic bags.”
The treatment of the shredded plastic was important to ensure that it did not at some point start leaching out and contaminating the soil, she said.
“The idea is to prevent further harm to the environment by creating a completely circular economy.”
While normal tar roads comprised gravel and bitumen, the plastic road method saw a percentage of the top layer of bitumen replaced with the plastic, she said.
“The expense of road building with bitumen results from it being a by-product of crude oil.
“Prices also fluctuate, which is problematic for planning, and the production of bitumen generates greenhouse gases which drive climate change.”
After the completion of phase two, the focus would shift towards convincing other municipalities and provinces to make use of the technology, which could then lead to a local plant to process the waste plastic, she said.
“Governments from all over the world, contractors, engineers and the public are invited to visit the first eco-friendly road in SA in Jeffrey’s Bay.”
Kouga municipality spokesperson Laura-Leigh Randall, who was showing off the project to a Chinese film crew on Wednesday, said the local authority was very excited about the project.
“Besides the benefit of countering plastic pollution, we understand that the plastic road will be more durable and resistant to potholes,” she said.
“We’re particularly excited about the economic and employment spin-offs for our community if we can get a plastic pellet production plant to open here.”