When you think of recycling, what comes to mind? Let me guess, aluminum, plastic, glass, or newspaper, right? Or perhaps your mind wanders to that bag of cans your kid has been collecting out in the garage, with dreams of saving up for something special. What if I asked you to guess what the number one most recycled material is, in the United States? Would you still choose one of the items listed above? If you did, you’d be wrong! There is only one winner here, and asphalt is it. A whopping 95% of all asphalt used in the United States is recycled each year. Not only that, it can be reused again and again and again!
Asphalt typically starts as a parking lot, an interstate, or a highway. After years of wear and tear, it ultimately needs to be replaced. That is when this recycling process begins. The top layers of the asphalt are pretty worn out and crumbling, near the end of its life span. This is the part that’s milled up and removed, turning it into asphalt millings. Asphalt millings are essentially broken-down pieces of used asphalt. The millings are loaded into trucks and driven back to the asphalt plants. Once at the plants, the asphalt millings are stockpiled for future use. When the time comes, the millings are loaded up and placed in the RAP (recycled asphalt product) bins, where the material runs across the scale belt and into the drum via the recycle collar. The RAP is heated and blended with the virgin materials, and after the proper amount of AC (asphalt cement) is added, boom. Brand new asphalt. Haul in the dump trucks because this steaming hot mix is ready to roll!
Remember that old saying, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?” Check, check and check! The asphalt industry is knocking that saying out of the park! Two of the main ingredients used to make asphalt as a new product, are aggregates and AC (asphalt cement or oil). When asphalt millings are recycled or reused, the amount of virgin material needed to create new asphalt is reduced. Aggregates are a limited resource, so the less mining of new aggregates, the better! When RAP is used, we are essentially taking the old worn-down asphalt, and reusing it to create new asphalt. Not only that, but it also reduces the amount of waste being put into landfills.
The next time you are driving down the interstate, walking your dog around the block, or racing one of your kids down a biking path, take a minute to appreciate what’s going on below your feet. Asphalt is working wonders, one mile at a time.