99% of reclaimed asphalt pavement is reintroduced in new or rebuilt roadways, making it the nation’s reuse champion. Rates for other materials pale in comparison: 60% for aluminum cans, 37% for plastic drink bottles, 31% for glass beverage bottles, and 56% for newsprint (According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
The rapid growth we see in recycled pavements is dramatically outpacing consumer product recycling trends, which showed an increase of less than 1% in recent years, according to the EPA, due in part to a 3% drop in plastic bottle recycling in 2017. Reclaimed asphalt pavement use, on the other hand, is on the upswing, up 36% from only 10 years ago.
Of course, recyclers of asphalt pavement have an advantage over their consumer product counterparts. Construction industry players simply reclaim materials by scraping up old roadways. There’s no need to rely on the diligence of people who may or may not choose to participate in a community’s waste recycling program. Roadway recyclers seek out their product, while consumer product recyclers must wait for the product to come to them.
The surfaces we drive our cars and trucks upon every day consist mostly of aggregate (crushed rocks) to provide stability for heavy vehicle loads, and binder (asphalt made from petroleum) to serve as the glue that holds those rocks together. For most of our transportation history, we’ve relied upon virgin materials to build or rebuild streets and highways. But in recent years, there’s been a growing shift toward the use of reclaimed asphalt pavement.
It’s an idea that makes sense on three fronts: engineering, environmental and economic. To justify their costly investment, roads need to last a long time, preferably a couple of decades or more. Our experience shows that roads containing recycled materials (which include roofing shingles that, like pavements, are made with asphalt and aggregates) can be just as durable and last just as long as those built with virgin materials.