Asphalt Tops List of Most Recycled Materials

What's the world's most recycled material? Aluminum, glass, plastic or paper? Wrong! The world's most recycled material is asphalt.

A report from the Federal Highway Administration shows that 80 percent of the asphalt pavement that's removed each year during widening and resurfacing projects is reused. That is substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's recycling rates of 60 percent for aluminum cans, 56 percent for newsprint, 37 percent for plastic soft drink bottles, 31 percent for glass beverage bottles and 23 percent for magazines.

Ironically, in a survey of 1,009 adults commissioned by the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), Americans ranked asphalt pavement as the material they thought was recycled the least among nine commonly recycled products.

Pete Alex, president of The Osterland Co., is heavily involved in asphalt recycling in the Northeast Ohio area. "All of the new asphalt roads around here contain recycled asphalt pavement (RAP)," said Alex. "We recycle everything we possibly can because it saves us money, it saves our customers money and it saves huge amounts of space in landfills."

Fred Frecker, president and executive director of Flexible Pavements of Ohio, the trade association for the state's asphalt industry, says last year, Ohio asphalt contractors recycled approximately 2.6 million tons of RAP into new pavement. "This saved in the neighborhood of $42 million, not to mention the fact that our landfill space would be overwhelmed if it weren't for large-scale recycling of industrial products such as asphalt pavement. The asphalt paving industry is truly a leader in this respect."

Thirty-three years ago, when Earth Day started, asphalt recycling was not widely practiced, said Frecker. In the 1970s, asphalt pavement recycling was developed as a necessity during the oil embargo. "Recycling proved to offer so many advantages, both economically and environmentally, that today as we celebrate Earth Day, it's become an everyday business practice," he notes.

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