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The waste plastic crisis has worsened in recent years, alongside a surge in ecommerce, exports and consumption. Less than a third of all plastic in the UK is recycled, and worldwide, about 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans every day.
However, in the wake of every crisis comes innovation, and sustainability-focused companies such as MacRebur® have been developing the kinds of cutting-edge solutions in the background that have the potential to tackle the waste epidemic head-on. MacRebur® processes waste plastics destined for landfill or incineration and adds them into asphalt for road construction. To paint a picture with data, the startup repurposes the equivalent weight of 740,541 one-time-use plastic bags, with every kilometre of road laid.
We sat down with founder and CEO Toby McCartney to find out more.
What were you doing prior to founding MacRebur®?
I’ve been in business since I was 9 years old. My wife and I worked together to build a training and development company which she still runs today. I won’t get into all the details now, but if you’re curious, my recently published book, Business ReLoveution, includes stories of the many businesses I have been involved in over the years.
The idea for MacRebur® really took life when my two daughters (now aged 9 years and 11 years) started to display a passion for disrupting the world for good, and became increasingly concerned with the waste plastics we had in our household. Seeing the younger generation dedicated to the state of the world was a strong signal that this was the right thing to do, and it was the right time to do it.
What was the first hurdle you had to overcome?
Our product is very technical, and finding the right ‘genetic’ code that works between the waste plastics and bitumen was like a puzzle we had to put together. We carefully select plastics from the waste stream, and add them into roads to improve strength and durability, whilst reducing the quantity of the oil-based bitumen used in a traditional road mix. Consequently, we’re able to extend the bitumen used in the mix, reducing fossil fuel usage and carbon footprint. Finding the right mechanism to perfect this process was a hurdle, but once we figured it out, it was a game-changer.
What kinds of waste plastic do you use to replace bitumen in roads – are there any limitations on the kind of waste you can use?
We focus our efforts on waste plastics from industrial, commercial and local authority waste. There are some plastics that we don’t use simply because they don’t contain the right properties to create a homogenous mix with the remaining bitumen in asphalt. In order not to compromise the quality of the asphalt, and actually improve it, it’s important that there are no unmelted plastics remaining in the asphalt at the end of the heating and mixing process.
How much plastic do you think you’ve managed to repurpose since starting the company?
It’s difficult to say, but in the UK alone it must be the equivalent to hundreds of millions of waste plastic bottles and one-time use plastic bags otherwise destined for landfill sites or incineration. One tonne of MacRebur® mix contains the equivalent of 100,000 plastic bags, and we’ve spent 5 years, all over the world, testing and trialing various mixes in roads, in the UK and Europe, Turkey, Australia, and even Japan. There are numerous papers written on the successes and results, which you can read about here. We’re looking to establish 5 plants over the next 3 years, meaning there is huge potential to make a growing, global impact.
What is your plan for expansion?
We have identified 5 new key target territories, in which we’ll be building out plants. We intend to run these plants and produce our additive to be sold into the asphalt manufacturers across the globe. We already work with a number of construction firms, asphalt manufacturers, Departments of Transport and private construction companies who are demanding that MacRebur® use local waste in local roads, so we’ll be continuing to sell licences for others to buy into our green tech and start developing their own ‘waste plastic roads’ in their localities.
How have you tailored the manufacturing process to be scalable?
We now have a variety of different machinery capable of producing various volumes of product, tailored to the needs of the end customer – whether that be somewhere like Bermuda, which would require a relatively small annual volume of product, to Florida which would need a lot more. We have built our labs to carry out autonomous testing, allowing us to speed up the process of gaining acceptance into markets across the world. We’re now ready to scale up significantly, and to do that, we’ll be building our own manufacturing plants in strategic locations across the world.
How would you describe the overall vision of the company and your team?
Every single member of our team is dedicated to helping end the plastic epidemic, as well as enhancing the roads you and I drive on today. It’s our cause, and that’s remained true since the very first day we started working toward it.
What’s been the biggest success for the company so far and how did you celebrate?
We’ve all achieved our own personal successes through MacRebur® and I think that’s important. For the company as a whole, our greatest success has been establishing the brand in foreign markets, despite the obvious challenges that we face as a currently small company based in Lockerbie, Scotland. It was an incredible team effort to be able to bring our business to countries outside of The UK, and it’s an achievement we’ve been able to repeat several times over, and will continue to as we grow.
Other than building sustainable roads, what’s one thing you try to do for the planet in your own life?
I’m particularly proud of my book, which I hope inspires other entrepreneurs and future business owners to create, innovate and disrupt the world for good. I struggle with dyslexia and so writing a book was a huge personal achievement.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs aspiring to build sustainable solutions?
Read Business ReLoveution! And keep innovating.
Success means different things to different people. How would you evaluate ‘success’ for the business?
Looking back, and knowing that you have done your best, built a positive legacy, and maintained congruency in doing it. It’s also crucial to maintain a positive mental state which is increasingly difficult in today’s world, and can often be overlooked.
To find out more about MacRebur®, and for the opportunity to invest, check out the campaign now.
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