Asphalt Pavement Is The Surprise Leader In The Recycling Of Various Materials

BURNSVILLE, MN | Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What’s recycled the most? While Americans are accustomed to thinking about recycling their newspapers and beverage containers, the most widely recycled product in terms of both percentage and tonnage is actually asphalt pavement. According to a report issued by the Federal Highway Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 80 percent of the asphalt pavement that’s removed each year during widening and resurfacing projects is reused as part of new roads, roadbeds, shoulders and embankments. In contrast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rates are 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. "Asphalt pavement admittedly isn’t prominent on the public’s radar screen for recycling. But every year, approximately 73 million tons of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) are reused, or nearly twice as much as the combined total of 40 million tons of recycled paper, glass, aluminum and plastics," said Mike Acott, president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association NAPA. Relatively few people outside the pavement industry, however, know the extent of asphalt pavement recycling. In a survey commissioned by NAPA, Americans ranked asphalt pavement as being recycled the least among nine materials. (The others were aluminum, glass, paper, plastic, rubber, steel, wood and yard waste.) EPA figures show that Americans recycle less than half of their discarded paper and less than one-third of their discarded aluminum and glass. Overall, only 28 percent of items in the municipal solid waste stream were recycled in 1997, the latest year for which the EPA has figures. The EPA has established a target recycling goal of 35 percent of municipal solid waste by the year 2005. "For the asphalt pavement industry already to have an 80 percent recycling rate is quite impressive. The recycling of asphalt pavement is an everyday business practice," Acott said. Acott noted that using RAP has economic benefits for taxpayers, as well as environmental benefits. "Using RAP results in lower costs. We use less virgin material and, by avoiding trips to the landfill, we use less diesel fuel. Considering today’s fuel prices, these savings add up considerably for taxpayers on public road projects," Acott said. Other findings from NAPA’s survey help portray the state of recycling in America. For example, 46 percent of Americans rated their own interest in recycling as high or very high, while 33 percent said it was average and 20 percent said it was low or very low. They gave even lower marks to their community’s interest in recycling. Only 36 percent rated their community’s interest as high or very high, while 37 percent said it was average and 23 percent said it was low or very low. Interest in recycling was higher in the Northeast and West than in the rest of the country. Most Americans take part in at least some sort of recycling program. The survey showed that more than three-quarters (77 percent) said they recycle at least some aluminum cans. About two-thirds (67 percent) said they recycle newspapers, along with 65 percent who said they recycle plastic bottles; 60 percent, glass bottles; 58 percent, magazines; 55 percent, plastic bags, 54 percent, tin cans; and 53 percent who said they recycle white paper.

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