We all know those highly recognizable orange cones line the highway. Half of the road has been removed, leaving only a sandy base in the left lane and creating a drop-off of nearly a foot from the edge of the remaining pavement. A commercial paving contractor had excavated the now non-existent lane and hauled the old paving materials away to be sold to an asphalt or concrete plant for recycling.
A little known fact is that the asphalt industry is a leader in material recycling and has been for some time. Since the 1950’s, and the beginning of the Interstate system, the asphalt industry has accomplished recycling over 99% of all materials used to pave our roadways, parking lots and other paved surfaces. As a petroleum based product, asphalt producers found decades ago that the material was easily cleaned and turned into new quality for use again and again. Although a costly process, due to the excessive energy needed to heat the asphalt to a high temperature, the asphalt industry began to lead the world in industrial recycling.
Today, and thanks to the advancements of technology in the asphalt and concrete industry, the process of recycling asphalt no longer requires the excess energy. The process requires a much lower temperature allowing for use of less energy, benefiting our environment further.
While there is new asphalt created, supply has yet to surpass demand as new roads are cut and new shopping centers built. In addition, technologies in development in the asphalt production industry have increased the longevity of existing paved surfaces thus providing fewer materials for recycling. All in all, an admirable effort by an industry with profound impact on the appearance of our American landscape, to respect the environment and become one of the most sustainable industries in the world.