In a world-first Australian innovation, Australian Councils are increasingly replacing the traditional steel mesh used to reinforce concrete in footpaths with recycled plastic.

Councils are responsible for building or replacing an estimated 8,000 kilometres of footpaths in Australia each year. Thanks to Queensland engineering firm Fibercon and researchers from James Cook University, councils are now using recycled polypropylene (PP) plastic waste in the form of Emesh to reinforce concrete pavements and other infrastructure.

The Emesh product is 100 per cent recycled polypropylene. To date, 65 tonnes of plastic waste has been recycled, with the potential to recycle 5,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually. One tonne of plastic is equivalent to approximately 20,000 litre bottles, or 120,000 plastic bags.

Townsville City Council was one of the first in Australia to use Emesh for 3,500mof pathway on Magnetic Island.

Senior Project Manager Bob Hickey explained that additionally to the environmental benefits that came with the use of recycled plastic, the fibres were also easy to transport, especially to Magnetic Island.

“There are also no problems with corrosion in the saltwater environment. The result is an excellent product with no visible uncontrolled cracking,” added Mr Hickey.

In the first global analysis of the production, use and fate of all plastics ever made – humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production began in the early 1950s – roughly half was produced in just the last 13 years, and an estimated 79 per cent now resides in landfills or the natural environment.

There are only three things that can be done with plastic waste: recycling, energy recovery, or landfill.

“Recycling is not just putting materials in a recycling bin at the kerbside: collection is only the start of the process,” stated Fibercon CEO, Mark Combe.

“Markets must exist for recyclable materials and buyers must be found for products made with recyclable materials. With China drastically reducing its import of waste in 2017, finding new uses for recycled plastics is more important than ever.”