Reduce, Reroof, Recycle: Finding a Second Life for Asphalt Shingling

By Matt Baker

The most ubiquitous roofing style in the United States, topping roughly two thirds of residential roofs in the nation, is asphalt shingling. This is due to its low cost, easy installation and relatively long lifespan. These shingles are even more common in the northern, temperate regions of the nation where the reduced risk of thermal shock further lengthens their longevity.

According to a joint Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency study, roughly 80% of macadam—the dominant use for asphalt—is recycled into future road laying projects. The same cannot be said for asphalt shingles. Making up a significant percentage of the construction and demolition waste stream, an estimated ten million tons of the petroleum-based shingles are disposed of each year.

But that may be changing. Last year, manufacturing giant Owens Corning launched the industry’s first asphalt shingle recycling program. Since inception, nearly 50,000 tons of material have been recycled into paving for roadways that otherwise were destined for landfills.

As one ton of asphalt roofing roughly equates to one barrel of oil, that’s equivalent to a week’s worth of Saudi Arabian oil production. That may seem like paltry savings considering the breadth of global oil consumption. But consider that the program is less than a year old and that asphalt shingles currently make up 90% of the residential market, with little prospect of being dethroned by other materials. “The major shingle manufacturers are so efficient and it’s so easy to install that the metal or modified markets can’t compete with them,” said Stu Martel, Chief Production Manager with S&D Roofing Service.

Reaching the 50,000 ton milestone necessitated the cooperation of many roofing contractors. Owens Corning preferred contractors, which now number fifty nationwide, with eight in the Chicago area, sign a pledge committing to 100% recycling of asphalt roofing shingles removed during a project.

The average U.S. house typically yields between three and four tons of asphalt shingles, meaning that diverting the waste from even one reroofing project could have a big impact. “You could pave 250 feet of a normal two lane highway with a typical house,” said Barry Hornbacher, the Shingle Recycling Business Manager at Owens Corning. In fact, a home’s old roofing shingles is equivalent to recycling that household’s waste for one year.

There are several incentives for a contractor to sign the pledge. Aside from being able to promote their sustainable business practice to homeowners, roofers can obtain Owens Corning products at a discount. The manufacturer also maintains a preferred contractor page on their website. “A homeowner in Chicago who wants to find a contractor that is committed to recycling can go look up on our contractor locator page and find those contractors specifically,” said Hornbacher.

In addition to helping developers to obtain certification credits under green building standards, the program aims where any contractor or subcontractor is most susceptible: the pocketbook.

Heritage Environmental Services, the nation’s largest privately-held environmental services company, operates all of the shingle recycling locations for Owens Corning. To encourage participation and remain cost competitive, Heritage targets recycling rates at or below prevailing landfill costs. Owens Corning and Heritage hope that making shingle recycling more financially feasible will not only promote the program, but help it expand.

“It’s about efficiency for the contractor,” said Martel. “Nobody wants to drive three hours to a dump because it wastes time, gas and money.” Heritage currently has two locations in the Chicago suburbs: Forest View and Lemont. By opening satellite locations in other areas, as they plan to do in Crete, Tinley Park and elsewhere, the excuses not to take part start to disappear.

All deposits are weighed and analyzed. “Everyone that comes in with shingles, we take samples when they scale in,” said Bob Kras, Recycling Manager at Heritage Environmental. “We sample every layer of every load and test for asbestos.” During the 1960’s and ‘70’s, some manufactures used asbestos in the production of the fiber matt contained in their shingles. Often when a homeowner reroofs their home, a new layer of shingles goes down over the old, resulting in three, four or even five layers of shingles. Each of these must be examined. Thus far, this diligence has netted two asbestos hits in the nationwide program.

At Heritage’s Forest View location, most of the sorting is done by hand. The shingles are cleaned and stripped of nails, flashing and other foreign objects before being ground down. A massive 120 by 50 foot tented structure can enclose hundreds of tons of the mulched asphalt, which by this point is the consistency of very fine playground bedding.

Heritage then sells the asphalt to paving companies. “The big benefit is that this asphalt is much less expensive compared to virgin asphalt,” said Kras. Asphalt mixes with recycled shingles cost about $40 per ton, compared to $400 per ton of virgin asphalt.

“When you look at the chemical makeup of this, the asphalt itself does not break down,” said Kras. “Sunlight deteriorates all the other materials but improves the asphalt.”

Research has shown that the aged, sun-baked asphalt from residential rooftops actually improves roadway hot-mix performance by increasing its resistance to wear and moisture, while decreasing deformation such as rutting and cracking.

The shingle recycling program has been running in Chicago since last June and is currently active in several other markets, including Cincinnati, Denver, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Nashville, with additional market expansion planned in the future.

As the recycling of roofing shingles accelerates, there might even come a time, and quite soon, that the demand in the road paving market is sated. Asphalt, virgin or otherwise, only makes up 5% of macadam, with aggregate material comprising the bulk. Owens Corning may explore reusing the recycled asphalt in more shingles. After all, asked Kras, indicating the impressive stockpile of mulched asphalt, “Why throw this away? This is good material.”

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One Response to “Reduce, Reroof, Recycle: Finding a Second Life for Asphalt Shingling”
  1. Don says:

    That is a great idea! no need of adding to the land fills when we can reuse materials.

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