As the most recycled material on Earth, asphalt is very versatile and useful. Asphalt is a refined, petroleum-like material made from crude oil that is also called bitumen. It contains sulfur, hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. Due to asphalt’s binding abilities, resistance to changing temperature, and structural durability, it is mostly used to build parking lots, roadways, and roof shingles.
Asphalt is a 100% renewable construction resource that the U.S. created 420 million tons of in 2019. In the same year, 3,600 asphalt production sites were located in the country. Almost 40 billion barrels of bitumen was also stored in the U.S.
The material’s circular life cycle essentially dictates the asphalt economy. A recycling company obtains the asphalt once it can no longer be used properly. An extraction process removes the usable asphalt from the unusable portions. The usable material is then resold to companies who reuse it for paving, waterproofing, and more. The U.S. recovers almost 99% of asphalt each year, helping to protect the planet as well as our wellbeing.
There are several other benefits of recycling asphalt, including protecting the planet’s atmosphere from receiving 2.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), which reduces greenhouse gases by up to 61%. Asphalt recycling also reduces the amount of shingle waste being dumped in landfills and U.S. dependency on oil sources from other countries. In fact, one shingled roof can produce an amount of asphalt that is sufficient enough to lay down 200 feet of a two-lane highway. Reusing asphalt can lower processing costs to $25 for each recycled batch while saving U.S. taxpayers almost $2 billion.
The asphalt recovery industry is worth more than $7 billion today with the shingle recovery market close on its heels. At least 20 U.S. states have 50 or more roofing recovery sites with an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.9% between 2020 and 2027. Demands for asphalt in the U.S. are predicted to increase by 3% year over year as well with sustainable programs helping to reduce binder manufacturing costs by an estimated 35%. Furthermore, the Vermont Act 175 has made shingle recycling mandatory for Vermont with even more states expected to follow.
Recycling asphalt shingles is not the same as recycling asphalt as the bitumen is extracted from the shingle using a solvent in a four-step process. The first step involves grounding the waste asphalt shingle (WAS) to create coarse pieces so nail debris can be removed before mixing the shingle pieces with a solvent to create a liquid slurry that dissolves the bitumen. The solid waste then lands at the bottom of the tank as the bitumen and other solvents make their way to the surface. Afterwards, the rest of the solvents are separated from the oil using heat, allowing the solvent to be used again and the oil to be packaged neatly.
The recycling of asphalt and bitumen allows asphalt, asphalt shingles, and bitumen oil to be resold and reused, making the asphalt recovery market a sustainable and interesting industry.