Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of a meeting Sophie Kennedy, Fulton Hogan’s National Environmental and Sustainability Manager. If you know me personally, you’d almost certainly be familiar with my transport arrangements. I’M BIKING is printed clearly on my forehead, in bold and italics no less, and biking to meet Sophie was no different. On those nine or so kilometers to C4 coffee, I took the time to consider the path I was biking on and the people I was sharing the road with, inadvertently familiarising myself with one of Fulton Hogan’s most interesting projects, PlastiPhalt®. Sophie’s work takes on a dynamic role of reducing energy expenditure, managing environmental impacts and collaborating with other organisations to which Fulton Hogan is associated. For several years since in 2014, this entailed working with the Christchurch Airport on this very PlastiPhalt® project.
Having received an airport grant just last month, Yvonne (from the Christchurch Airport) and I discussed this project and she instantly had me interested. The Christchurch Airport partnered with Fulton Hogan on their first commercial trial of what, in essence, was a roading asphalt incorporating recycled plastic. The plastic from unrecyclable oil containers was first cleaned, ground into pellets, then combined with heated bitumen. This process had been rigorously tested to ensure against leaching of microplastics, one of the greatest risks many alternatives may face. Although this project was a great discussion point, I soon realised that it also required manifold solutions: asphalt may be developed but education must also be integrated to prevent further accumulation of plastic. Energy efficiency, air quality and other factors were also at play and, without proper consideration, these could fully undermine the project. A bit like how, biking back home, the rain, literally, put a dampener on my ride. Although I could barely see, with raindrops smearing across my glasses, I realised that there were great disparities within our city’s cycle system. Some cycleways were brightly lit while others were completely dark, the paint of the past barely visible.
Which got me thinking. Several years ago, the concept of solar roadways emerged as a method of harnessing energy from the roads which exist universally. Although in principle, this was a great idea, after further testing the expectations were far from met. Nevertheless, technology continues to impress, with other concepts such as glowing street markings with ‘photo-luminising paint’ near Amsterdam and the Dutch Van Gogh-Roosegarde path of illuminating LEDs designed and implemented by Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure.
Another idea in this space has been one of prefabricated plastic roads, anticipated to last two-to-three times longer than conventional roads. Made from 100% recycled plastic, Rotterdam in the Netherlands was the first city to experience the new idea, which has also claimed to be cost-effective and time-efficient, reducing construction time by over 50%. The plastic roads consist of pieces which, much like LEGO bricks, can be pieced together to form a road and, if in need of replacement, can be recycled back into new pieces. Also, in principle, quite a novel example of a circular based economy. The only threat, as described above, may be of microplastic leaching from continued use and weathering. I guess we’ll have to wait and see about that.
Last up is an Australian company called Replas. Replas repurposes plastics (both soft and hard) into materials and structures such as benches, bollards and bridges. Some of their projects, here in Christchurch, have been the Enduroplank™ footbridge in Ferrymead Park, the black bollards down Wakelin Place and the Peninsula picnic tables. It’s hard to guess that they’re made of recycled plastic! A lesson here – recycle your soft plastics and you might just see them up-cycled in our community. Nevertheless, as we discussed this afternoon, it’s also important not to forget about the root of the problem. Use what you need and only what you need. This way, perhaps we won’t be adding so much plastic into our waste streams, beaches, cities and economies (pun intended!). Happy holidays everyone!