Contrary to popular belief, asphalt paving is the most recycled material in the United States. Despite its classification as industrial waste, up to 99% of reclaimed asphalt pavement is recycled into new paving known as reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP). This environmentally-friendly method is employed throughout the United States to help conserve national resources. In the US, asphalt is the most widely used construction material, according to the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA).
Recycled paving isn’t a new or relatively innovative concept. Early highways in Europe were often built directly over Roman roads and existing infrastructure. Despite its durability, asphalt and concrete paving do not last forever. Everyday wear and tear result broken roads and a need to continually maintain highways and roads due to safety concerns. Good, strong roads are also the heartbeat of a strong economy, fueling trade and movement.
As early as 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pointed out that asphalt is an easily recyclable material. Since then, the forward thinkers involved in the asphalt industry have been promoting ways to continually innovate and push the technology forward. Currently, asphalt is the number one recycled material in the country.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) actively promotes the use of recycled materials in infrastructure building for three main reasons. First, it’s cost effective. Recycled materials saved taxpayers over $2.2 billion during the 2011-2012 building season. Materials are used to rebuild or rehabilitate new roads. Reclaimed asphalt shingles (RAS) hit 1.2 million tonnes in the same year.
Second, it also saves on the need for use of new aggregate materials like stone or gravel during road-widening or other improvement projects that involve creating roadbeds, embankments or other road features. Asphalt is commonly composed of a minimal amount of asphalt cement combined with aggregates like rock or stone. Recycled asphalt follows a stringent set of guidelines to meet FHWA safety standards for both hot-mix, warm-mix and cold-mix recycling. To clarify, hot-mix asphalt is often used for national roads and highways that need high-impact resistance to withstand heavy traffic. Cold-mix asphalt is used for roads that experience low traffic volumes.
Developing and other industrial countries are also catching on by recycling materials like rubber tires, glass and other recyclables are also used to create aggregates for the asphalt to bind to.
Finally, reclaiming asphalt is environmentally-friendly and sustainable. In 2012, asphalt producers reclaimed over 68 billion tonnes of pavement for rebuilding use. Contractors and users across the US reported a 99% reclaimed rate. Reusing the materials prevents them from occupying valuable landfill space. Not only that, it allows contractors to mine old roads for usable material.