Company Uses Plastic Milk Bottles for Road Construction in South Africa

A South African company uses recycled plastic milk bottles to construct roads in the bid to improve the country’s waste problems. Shisalango Construction collects plastic milk bottles from landfills to pave and repair roads. South Africa is the first African country to do this, even though India and Australia, as well as North American and European countries, had explored the concept before this time.

The South African Road Federation estimates that potholes cost motorists $3.4 billion for vehicle repairs, auto accidents, and damaged goods. So the repair of bad roads with plastic wastes is a welcome development where the initiative also solves the problem of plastic pollution.

Shisalanga has reconstructed over 400 meters of a road outside of Durban using asphalt produced with about 40,000 recycled plastic milk bottles. The company uses between 118 to 128 plastic bottles for 6% of bitumen binder in each ton of asphalt. The milk plastic bottles are ground into pellets, which are then dissolved under the heat of 190 degrees Celsius before they are mixed with additives.

The company said the final product is more durable and water-resistant than asphalt when used for road paving, and it also emits fewer toxic matters. General manager Deane Koekemoer noted “the results are spectacular, the performance is phenomenal.”

Shisalanga sources 70% of the plastic materials it uses for road construction from landfills, with a few others collected directly from people’s homes and communities. It has produced jobs for people who are employed in the road construction sector, with Shisalanga’s recycling plant partner also hiring staff for its plastic recycling activities.

Repurposing plastic for road use is not necessarily a new concept, with many global companies trying the idea and finding it very helpful. A control technician at the KZN Department of Transport, Kit Ducasse, said he is impressed with the quality of roads paved with plastic, saying, “it’s working so well”.

Environmentalists worry that the emissions could be carcinogenic, and microplastics released if the roads begin to wear away. But Shisalanga said they spent five years researching this possibility and found the fear is unmerited. “The performance of our plastic mix is better than traditional modifiers, the fatigue seems improved, and resistance to water deformation is as good or better,” said technical manager Wynand Nortje.