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Asphalt Shingle Recycling 101

Asphalt shingles are far and away the most popular roofing material out there. Just look around your neighborhood and you’ll find it hard to disagree. Approximately 80 percent of roofs in America are covered with asphalt shingles, and every 15-20 years those shingles are replaced with new ones. So what happens to the old ones? For a very long time, used and deteriorated asphalt shingles were simply dumped in landfills after being torn off of roof tops. Can you image how they’ve added up over the years? It pains me just to think about it. Thankfully, facilities across the country are now recycling asphalt shingles.

Facts and Figures

When tearing off old shingles, the average home generates 1-3 tons of asphalt waste (depending on whether there were multiple layers). Nationwide, this adds up to around 10 million tons every year, plus the million tons of scrap that shingle manufacturers toss out. This is a ridiculous amount of waste to dump in our already overflowing landfills. And, the shingles supposedly take 300 years to decompose. So, several states and cities have already banned or plan to ban the disposal of asphalt shingles in landfills.

Instead of hauling them to the dump people have tried to burn used shingles, but because they’re made from refined petroleum, burning them results in harmful gases that pollute the air. Conversely, when asphalt shingles are recycled we’re actually saving the earth a little bit. For every ton of asphalt shingles that gets recycled our country’s need for oil is reduced by 2 barrels.

The Shingle Recycling Process

Roofers bring construction trash bins with them to tear-off projects, tossing old shingles in the bins as they work. When the job’s done, they’ll sort out anything that recyclers would consider “contamination,” like any regular trash a passerby might toss in. Nails are usually allowed in the loads as well as minor wood scraps.

Recyclers will send the shingles through a number of extraction processes to make sure a load is clean. Super-strength rotating magnets are used to separate nails and other metal fragments, and wood scraps are separated by floatation. If there’s anything else in there that could contaminate the load, it is usually rejected. The shingles are then ground into small pieces between 1/4-inch to 3 inches, depending on their future purpose.

The added benefit of recycling asphalt shingles, and the thing that really makes this concept work, is the fact that most recycling facilities charge less than it costs to dump a load at the landfill. For example, Northwest Shingle Recyclers in Portland, Ore. charges $65 a ton, where the city’s waste transfer stations charge $85. As it turns out, recyclers can offer competitive rates because they make money by reselling the recycled product.

How are Recycled Shingles Used?

The most common use for recycled asphalt shingles is road construction. It can be used as a subbase, aggregate base, or the actual paving material. It’s suggested that the shingles from one average-sized home can pave about 200 feet of a two-lane highway. Many states have now approved the use of recycled shingles in public roadways (a small mix, at least) which has been fundamental in the growth of the process. The recycled product is also used to patch roads, bridges, ramps, sidewalks and parking lots.

It can also be made into new asphalt shingles or broken down into fuel oil.

So, the next time you have your roof replaced, ask your roofer to have your shingles recycled!

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