By Brad Caldwell – Owner of Roof, Rinse & Run – March 6, 2014
In Alabama, asphalt shingle recycling is a win-win situation. The roofing contractor can avert paying landfill fees while helping to contribute to future roads and reduce waste. Join us as we tour a shingle recycling facility located in Salem, AL (close to Phenix City, AL).
This particular location is the closest to my business, Roof, Rinse & Run, and is a much-appreciated service, made possible by Wiregrass Construction Company and ALDOT’s allowance of 5% recycled shingle content in new pavements. The roofing contractor simply takes his load of torn-off shingles, dumps it, and that waste is converted into a product known as RAS (Recycled Asphalt Shingles) which can be incorporated into the construction of new roads. Technically, RAS refers to scrap material from shingle manufacturers, while RCAS refers to “post-consumer” (i.e., waste from re-roofs) content; however, we will ignore this distinction and just use the widely known “RAS.”
Mike Brown, a consultant for Wiregrass Construction Company, Inc, said that currently Alabama allows paving mixes to contain up to 5% RAS, and hoped the number would go up in the future. In fact, up to 15% is sometimes specified for the right application, especially in the case of pathways and parking lots.
There are a few concerns with recycling shingles, such as accidentally incorporating too much asbestos shingles into the mix, but Dan Crivit (of Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC), thinks these concerns are manageable, stating, “Asbestos testing consistently has demonstrated a very low occurance [sic] rate of asbestos in asphalt shingles, well within safe limits.” As far as I could tell, Alabama has no required pre-testing for asbestos, whereas other states may be different. Colorado, for example, requires the roofer (when he’s doing his bid on the job) to take three small shingle samples from each layer of roofing (or, three samples from one layer, if there’s only one layer, as is usually the case) and Fed-Ex it to a lab, which quickly determines whether there’s asbestos. If there is, in Colorado they have to just dump that load of shingles, rather than recycle them. Check with your particular state to see what’s required.
Currently, some 11 million tons of shingles go to waste (landfills) every year (constituting the third largest contributor to landfills!). Since shingles are 100% recyclable, that’s a lot of material that could be converted to roadways. Asphalt shingle recycling is a fairly simple way to reduce demand for oil.
How Asphalt Shingle Recycling Works
You might think that asphalt shingle recycling would be a really complex task, and no doubt it’s required lots of experimentation and testing; nevertheless, the actual process is quite simple: the shingles are dumped into a “waste reduction machine” (the one pictured below, and perhaps the only one used, is a “3680 Beast,” made by “Bandit Industries”) which grinds them down (removing the nails in the process) to a particle size that is acceptable as a supplement for asphalt paving. There are some 800 “Beast” machines in use around the world. The “Beast” is a modern machine and has some advantages over it’s predecessors – it’s able to work in the hot summer months when demand for new roads is the greatest, and it’s able to break down the shingles in such a way that extra, post-processing screening of the material is not required.
The “Beast” has a “cutter mill design” that enables it to “man-handle” the shingles without excessive heat, and reduce them to RAS, which looks similar to dirt. After the “Beast” processes the shingles, it spits out this broken-down mix of small-to-medium asphalt particles/pieces. This is RAS (Recycled Asphalt Shingles), and is ready to go into a pavement mix just like that (albeit sand might be added to stop the RAS from a process known as agglomeration, whereby the particles stick together again). The “Beast” can process some 90 tons of shingle material per hour!
The next step in asphalt shingle recycling is to put this RAS into the paving mix. There are a few different ways to make pavement. There’s a “hot mix,” where 300 °F aggregate is mixed with 200 °F asphalt cement (abbrev., “AC”); there’s a “warm mix,” which uses essentially the same procedure, but injects an additive (sometimes even just water) into the AC binder to cool it before mixing it with the aggregate; finally there’s a “cold mix,” where the AC binder is emulsified in water with a type of soap to decrease it’s viscosity and make it workable before mixing it with the aggregate. All that to say that, RAS works best in the hot mix and warm mix scenarios, where (due to the high temperatures) more of the AC present in the RAS is able to help bind with the aggregate. To quote again from Dan Krivit, “Using RAS in cold mix pavement repair has also proven technically feasible and successful. Compared to hot mix asphalt paving, however, cold mix applications are not getting the full value of the AC in the shingles.”
Does the State Pay for This?
According to Joey Armstrong (of Wiregrass Construction Company), Alabama does not have to pay for this – it’s just a “free-market” sort of thing. As far as I could tell, a few states may incentivize shingle recycling in one way or another, but it is an industry that is able to stand on its own. In fact, using recycled shingles is such a low-cost option as far as ingredients in the paving formula go that paving contractors can make more profit just by incorporating RAS into their mix. In other words, either mixing plants incorporate the task of converting shingles to RAS, or else independent contractors specialize in converting shingles to RAS, and then selling the RAS to mixing plants. The only costs involved appear to be land for dumping shingles, employees to watch those dumping areas, cost of waste-reduction-machines (like the “Beast”), cost of dozer and excavator use, and quality-control costs. Compared to virgin AC binder and aggregate, it’s quite possible that these costs are significantly less, as the actual material provided (old shingles) comes free, rather than at a prohibitively high price like oil and aggregate.
In any event, some states (such as Illinois) have opted to help forward the cause of asphalt shingle recycling, even if merely through legislative gymnastics that cost the government nothing while helping to provide an incentive for recycling.
How Can Roofing Contractors Participate?
Alabama has made it quite easy for roofers to participate in asphalt shingle recycling. There are some 15+ locations in the state for roofers to dump their waste shingles. All they ask is that you keep out the plastic wraps, the metal scraps, and any wood (shingles, nails, and in some cases, felt paper, is okay). In fact, the location at Salem, AL (pictured in this article) has even provided a dumpster and an area for wood pallets to make the roofer’s work that much easier! Right now they’re open 24/7, albeit they may soon change to a 7 AM to 7 PM schedule (still quite workable!).
Most states have shingle recycling going on (a few apparently do not). Check availability of asphalt shingle recycling facilities in your state.
How Is Asphalt Shingle Recycling Affecting Road-Building?
Asphalt shingle recycling is a boon to DOTs and paving contractors due to the low-cost nature of the RAS supplement. But some have found that adding RAS to the paving mix actually helps the road structurally as the high content of stone particles and fibers (both for organic and fiberglass varieties) in shingles helps the composition of the pavement to perform better. It’s still a fairly new technology, and not all the results are in yet, but it’s looking positive.
3/13/14 Update: Roof, Rinse & Run’s First Involvement in Asphalt Shingle Recycling ♻!
As of today, Roof, Rinse & Run has now begun doing asphalt shingle recycling. We took 20 squares from a re-roof down to this Salem plant. It was as easy as taking the shingles there and dumping them! Of course, we told our guys to be careful to only put shingles (and a little tar paper, and nails attached to the shingles) into the dumping trailer (by which we carried the shingles to the recycling plant) – and even after the crew had been instructed, I still had to keep an eye on it, since it was our first time. Sure enough, had I not been watching, we would have ended up with 3 roofing boots, 3 or 4 scraps of metal, and a large piece of plywood buried in the mix! So – if you’re thinking about recycling – remember that just telling your guys is almost never enough; you have to follow through with what you tell them and enforce it. Otherwise they don’t learn that there shouldn’t be any exceptions to it. No doubt, this is an area of concern when it comes to asphalt shingle recycling – keeping the shingles pure. Dumpsters and dumping trailers have always accepted any kind of trash (even lunch left-overs!) in people’s minds – so making a prompt and thorough-going transition helps to preclude bad material from getting incorporated into the RAS.
One word of warning to roofers – watch out for nails at recycling plants. We didn’t get any, but we could have. In fact, I had been directed to back my trailer up in a certain location and I looked over it first. It was kind of a long trek through an area ridden with nails. Now, nails in dirt might not be so bad, but I found a couple of the square-head variety with the nail sticking up, ready to grab an unsuspecting tire! The man on duty kindly allowed me to back up to a different area, where there weren’t any nails. In any event, I’d advise taking a magnet with you, and if the ground where you’ll be backing your trailer over looks suspicious, spend 30 minutes going over the path to save yourself a flat tire.
Additionally, we had a chance to speak with the man on duty there, and he kindly informed us of a few other interesting facts about the recycling process at this particular location – they get some 20 dumps of shingles per day! Also, they wait for 3-4 months before running the “Beast” (the shingle-grinder), and then run it for about a week solid, in order to grind up the “landfill” of shingles they have accumulated in those months. If that figure is correct, and depending on the average size of dump, that would be 50,000-100,000 squares of shingles accumulated in a four-month period. Or, to convert it to more tangible terms, it would be 5,000-10,000 tons! And that’s just one of the many facilities in Alabama, which is only one of many US states doing asphalt shingle recycling! Finally, he told us that Wiregrass Construction Company (technically owned by Construction Partners, Inc.) is what’s known as a “vertical” company – that is, not only do they accept shingles and grind them up into RAS, they are actually the ones that go out and pave many of the roads in Alabama. And it didn’t stop there – they do other work beside just the paving industry. In any event, Roof, Rinse & Run thanks Wiregrass for the ability to dispose of their tear-offs in an economical way that helps both the paving industry and the environment ♻.