A dump filled with 30m used tyres on Rhode Island is another example of a "tyre graveyard" around the world. © Brooks Kraft / Getty Images
A dump filled with 30m used tyres on Rhode Island is another example of a "tyre graveyard" around the world. © Brooks Kraft / Getty Images

Tyres recycled in game-changing new road surface

A revolutionary new road surface, using old tyres that would otherwise end up in landfill sites, is being tested by Highways England on a stretch of the M1, the government has announced.

It is the first time that a major road has been made using the asphalt mix, which is created by blending a fine rubber mix from waste tyres with bitumen and crushed stone.

The government body is funding trails into the new surface developed by building materials company Tarmac “to see if this environmentally-sound innovation could be the way forward for future road surfaces.”. 

The announcement, made yesterday, highlights how the new road surface could be the solution to a major waste problem.

More than 500,000 disused tyres are sent from the UK to destinations in the Middle East and Asia each year due to EU laws banning the disposal of tyres in landfill sites.

One landfill site in Kuwait, with more than seven million tyres, is so large that the ‘tyre graveyard’ can be seen from space.

Martin Bolt, corporate group leader at Highways England in the Midlands, said that “this could be the first step to rapidly reducing the number of tyres piling up in the UK and beyond,” and added that “the economic and environmental potential of this new asphalt is significant”.

A section of road between junctions 23 to 22 on the southbound carriageway of the M1 near Leicester was laid with the new surface in June and will be monitored over the next 12 months to see how it performs.

The new trial comes after previous tests on several small roads around the country.

Paul Fleetham, managing director at Tarmac, remarked: “There has been a very positive response to our rubberised asphalt since the first local authority trial was announced in May and we’re very pleased to be working with Highways England to explore its potential to support the sustainability of the strategic road network.”

Tarmac estimates that up to 750 recycled tyres could be used in every kilometre of road using the new material, saving substantial waste from landfill.

Fleetham said: “Technical innovation has a key role to play in improving the environmental performance of our roads. As a previously overlooked waste stream, used tyres offer a significant opportunity to unlock the benefits of a circular economy.”

This comes amid a growing number of projects tackling the issue of waste through a circular economy approach.

These include a road made from household plastic waste in Scotland, and a highway made from recycled rubber in Dubai.

Meanwhile, a recent dispute between the Philippines and Canada around illegally dumped waste demonstrated the need for greater sustainability.

Bolt commented: “Highways England is committed to investing in innovation to help us meet the economic, environmental and efficiency challenges we face in our changing world and also to delivering environment improvements as we strive to ensure our road network works more harmoniously with its surroundings.”

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