Willmott Dixon to use non-recyclable plastic in new roads at Bristol housing development

As the plastic melts into the mix

Construction firm Willmott Dixon has agreed a deal to create a second life for non-recyclable plastic used during the construction of the Ashton Rise development in Bristol.

The company is working with waste management company ETM, plastic road company MacRebur and Gworks Surfacing to incorporate plastic construction waste into the asphalt used on new roads in the area.

The plastic will replace bitumen, a carbon-intensive material found in asphalt. The non-recyclable plastic would otherwise have been sent for incineration or landfill. By placing the material into the roads, the equivalent of 150,000 single-use plastic bags will be given a second life.

Willmott Dixon’s managing director in the South West, Neal Stephens, said: “This innovation is also complemented by low-carbon heating, which is also being installed at the site, making Ashton Rise a highly sustainable development with individual homes making lifetime carbon savings of 23.5kg.

“By showcasing these innovative solutions to support carbon waste reduction, we hope to inspire other developers.”

The scheme will also save 1.6 tonnes of carbon emissions. The asphalt will also be more flexible, reducing the number of cracks and potholes that will emerge. As the plastic melts into the mix, there are no microplastics present.

Willmott Dixon is amongst the big-name businesses within the construction sector that have jointly formed a task group aimed at creating an industry-led framework for net-zero buildings. Convened by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), the group will see representatives from the coalition of companies examine and debate what the term “net-zero carbon” should mean for new buildings in the UK.

Specifically, the group will debate whether carbon-neutral construction and supply chains should be a requirement for a building to be classed as net-zero, in addition to direct operational emissions.

Innovative roads

Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees added: “This innovative approach will set Ashton Rise as the benchmark for new, environmentally friendly residential developments as residents will drive on some of the greenest tarmac in the country. It’s the introduction of innovations like this that will help drive us forward towards achieving our environmental goals as set out in the One City Plan.”

It’s not just construction waste that can be used in new roads. Another potential solution to this waste challenge comes from Tarmac, which has developed a new asphalt technology capable of recycling end-of-life tyres into road coatings.

The system breaks tyres down into two kinds of small particles called ground tyre rubber and crumb rubber modifier, which are then mixed with hot paving grade asphalt to modify its composition.

Tarmac claims that every kilometre of road surfaced with the innovative material would divert 750 tyres from landfill or incineration. It is currently undertaking a string of large-scale, real-world trials of the material, with one of the most recent applications having been made in Coventry as part of a deal with Coventry City Council and Balfour Beatty.  

Matt Mace

Comments (5)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    If you can’t recycle it repurpose it

    Beats sending it to landfill or burning it (although burning it could capture the energy creating electricity which is another kind of reusing when you think about it).

    One question, well in 2 parts, does this new road shed water quicker and is it quieter?

  2. Mike Mann says:

    Plastic bags are a lot less damaging in one piece – even if buried, but possibly burning is the best use/disposal method, as we need to eliminate as much plastic as possible. What happens to the micro/nano plastic waste created by erosion and run-off into the drainage system, or wind-blown? Not a good idea really. The best materials for roads are natural ones and estate roads would be better made from concrete (blocks preferably, as they can be re-laid) than bitumen-based materials, which are just the cheapest.

  3. Keiron Shatwell says:

    @Mike – ah but 1 tonne of concrete equals 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide.

    Asphalt, like bitumen, is just a hydrocarbon which is all plastic bags are too. 100% natural. In this technique the plastic bags are melted down to become part of the mixture so there won’t be any microplastic as there won’t be any plastic per se.

  4. Mike Mann says:

    Yes, I understand the carbon argument. However, that is not the point I was making – saving carbon is a very important mission. However, there is not much point in harming people in other ways whilst you do it.
    SUDS are a separate issue, but block paving with a permeable base is arguably better at rainwater retention too.
    On the acoustics aspect – this is an estate road, not a main route, so speeds and noise are less of an issue here – arguably a non-issue.

  5. Roland Gilmore says:

    Road surfaces wear away due to the fact that they are textured and not smooth. The effects of braking, wheel friction, UV and weather will inevitably produce dust. To pretend that the surface is permanent and will never wear away, producing micro plastics defies logic. Furthermore; the melting point of bitumen used for roads is around 160 C whereas polyethylene melts at about 110 C so there’s not that much energy saving in production of this novel surfacing material. Will the base course of the road still use a bitumen binder? Asphalt roads are recyclable, often in situ. Is this novel material recyclable?

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