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Kerb your enthusiasm

18 Jun 21 Recycling’s good for the environment, but reuse is even better. And surely the ultimate in reuse is temporary hire – but would that work for materials as well as tools? David Taylor spoke to someone who believes it might

You wouldn’t think twice about hiring a digger, a crane, some power tools – or even a toilet. But how would you feel about hiring a bunch of hard landscaping products?

Generally speaking, you hire the tools for the job – not the materials that make it up. Landscaping products are part of the job; and if they’re there for the life of the project why would you hire them?

This article was first published in the May 2021 issue of The Construction Index magazine. Sign up online.

One possible reason might be sustainability. Some products are incorporated into short-term construction contracts (for example temporary access roads, or big sporting events which are earmarked for subsequent redevelopment) and demolished shortly afterwards.

It seems wasteful to pave an area just to tear it all up again after a few short months. But is hiring the answer?

According to Steve Bennett, managing director of kerb manufacturer Dura Products, it is – or at least he certainly hopes so. 

Dura Products is the manufacturer of Durakerb, a range of kerbs made from recycled plastics that is marketed as a more sustainable alternative to traditional concrete products.

Launched in 2003, Durakerb is one of a number of polymeric kerb products now available. These all have two very desirable characteristics: their low mass and their ability to divert plastic waste from landfill. They are, of course, themselves recyclable.

Weighing only six or seven kilograms per unit, compared to ten times that for a concrete equivalent, a polymeric kerb is easier and safer to handle. Transport costs are also much lower as you can get far more Durakerbs per load. 

There are efficiency and productivity benefits as well: Bennett claims that for every concrete kerbstone, four Durakerbs can be laid. “It’s a lot easier to install our product than concrete,” he says.

Being made from recycled plastic waste, the Durakerb helps reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill or finding its way into the environment. And plastic is soft and pliable: you can cut a Durakerb with a handsaw.

That’s all very well and many local authorities have chosen polymeric kerbs for their highways projects for all these reasons even though they cost more than concrete. But why would anybody want to hire them?

That question hadn’t even occurred to Steve Bennett until last year when an engineer working on a house-building project in southern England came to him with an idea: his project was a large one and he needed a proper road for works access but only for the next three years.

“He was looking at a three-year temporary structure and wanted to put our units in. Then he asked was it possible to buy it on a temporary basis and would we buy it back?” recalls Bennett. “I thought yes, that’s something we could consider.”

Bennett could consider it because it would be quite easy to recover the kerbs after use. Although they are grouted in just like concrete kerbs, they are actually held in place by an anchor web moulded into the back and not by adhesion to the grout. In most cases, they can be dug out intact.

“It has happened before,” explains Bennett. “A company I used to work for that made polymeric drainage channels installed the product at a Tesco supermarket in Dundalk, Ireland. When they upgraded it to a superstore they just dug them out with a JCB and reused them,” he says.

One of the selling points of recycled plastic products is that they can themselves be ground up, fed back into the production process and remanufactured. But if you can skip this stage and simply reuse them over and over again, their sustainable credentials improve exponentially.

The biggest disadvantage for polymeric products is unit cost compared with concrete. “We sell our kerb at about £11.50 whereas a concrete kerb is £4 or £5. If we could get a few quid closer, it would make a hell of a difference,” admits Bennett.

There again, reusing the product – indeed, even renting it out – could be a way of adding value and closing that price gap.

That’s why earlier this year Dura Products launched a ‘Hire, Reclaim and Reuse’ scheme offering its products to clients for temporary use. Having previously promoted the green benefits of its sourcing, manufacturing and installation processes, the company wanted to extend its focus to the recyclability of its products.

The new scheme allows Dura Products’ kerb and drainage products to be rented for a fixed length of time before being reclaimed and used again on future projects, the aim being to keep the polymer waste in use for as long as possible. 

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Bennett hopes the scheme will appeal to clients for short-term construction projects and provide “the ultimate eco-friendly solution to the inevitable waste produced by the demolition of temporary infrastructures”.

He admits, however, that selling the concept of kerbstones-for-hire is a challenge and is unlikely to catch on very quickly. “The scheme will develop with increased use at the front end of a project and, in time, when more projects with installed Dura products come to end-of-life,” he says. 

“We think it’ll be a slow uptake. We haven’t got anybody to take it up yet – it’s still at the discussion stage,” admits Bennett. Essentially, Dura Products is flagging up the concept to see how the industry responds. 

One obstacle to the concept’s rapid acceptance is that Durakerbs have not been used for temporary installations until very recently. 

“We have over 500,000 units fixed permanently within infrastructure, generally used as a low- carbon and lighter, easier solution to kerb and kerb drainage by councils, contractors etc,” says Bennett. “But Transport for London has asked us recently to produce a surface-fixed temporary kerb for pop-up cycle lane projects which are becoming increasingly used as the design criteria for infrastructure leans more towards environmentally friendly modes of transport,” he adds.

The phenomenon of ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes is a recent one. In May 2020 the government issued guidance to local authorities requiring that more space be provided for walking and cycling in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The government…expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians”.

The guidance urged local authorities to make improvements “as swiftly as possible”, adding: “Facilities should be segregated as far as possible, i.e. with physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic. Lanes indicated by road markings only are very unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of change needed, especially in the longer term.”

This opened an opportunity for Dura Products, which responded to an approach from Transport for London (TfL) via its engineering consultant Jacobs. The result was the development of a surface-mounted recycled plastic kerb that doesn’t have to be embedded within the pavement.

“Quite a few pop-up cycle lanes went into London and they needed something quickly. Our kerb is normally installed just like a concrete kerb – you have to dig out the surrounding concrete. But they wanted something that didn’t involve all that,” says Bennett.

“It was actually a very quick process and took only two or three months to come up with a design,” he adds.

The surface-mounted kerb is made from the same recycled plastic material as the other Durakerb and Duradrain products but instead of being anchored below the road surface it is fixed to a steel frame bolted to the road surface with three M16 anchor bolts.

“If you’ve got an existing road, it’s a very simple solution – it’s just a case of drilling holes and fixing the product,” says Bennett.

This application provided a perfect illustration of the potential for hiring this kind of product. Pop-up cycle lanes are essentially temporary schemes and even though some might become permanent features, the majority almost certainly will not. 

Some, indeed, have proved extremely temporary: Trafford Council, for example, yielded to complaints by motorists and removed a designated cycle lane on the A56 near Sale, Greater Manchester, after just 48 hours.

Even though the new surface-mounted kerb has so far been used for only a few hundred metres of pop-up cycle lanes in London, Dura Products has already sold the concept to other users – most notably contractors on the Hinkley Point C power station project in Somerset.

Bennett is now in talks with HS2 Ltd which he says was attracted to the Durakerb product by its sustainability credentials. “They’re very much driven by carbon-reduction on that project,” he says. “In our discussions with HS2, they specifically asked if they’d be able to reuse the product on site.”

Bennett thinks his product will be just the ticket for use at temporary HS2 site compounds; and he reckons there’s likely to be three or four hundred such compounds in total. 

This article was first published in the May 2021 issue of The Construction Index magazine. Sign up online.

He would be very happy with outright sales of the product, but it would be even better if a major project like HS2 chose the Hire, Reclaim and Reuse scheme.

“It’s still a case of how long is it going to be for: are we going to hire it, buy or have a return scheme?” says Bennett. “We’ll just work with anybody who wants to explore it further. I’m sure HS2 will look at that – maybe in the Birmingham section because it just makes sense there.”

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