It sounds like a circular-economy solution that should have happened already, but it’s only now that GAF – the leading manufacturer of roofing materials in North America – has found a way to recycle asphalt shingles into new roofs.
The company says about 13 million tons of asphalt gets torn off with old roofs each year when they’ve come to the end of their design lives, and that’s just in the United States. Only 10 percent of the material is recovered while the rest goes into landfills, and that’s about 5,000 pounds’ worth from each average-sized job. In most cases, those shingles are then replaced with new asphalt.
“Asphalt is, of course, a petroleum product, so reusing millions of tons a year could have a significant positive impact on the global environment,” the company says. Furthermore, because they’re oil-based and designed to be weather-resistant, the shingles take a long time to break down, so it’s far better to keep them from the waste heap in the first place.
That’s never happened because there was no process for returning roofing shingles back to roofs, and there was really no market for the old asphalt roofing. Historically, the 10 percent that was recovered became road asphalt, but it’s easier to just recycle old paving materials into new paving materials. That left mountains of the roofing shingles with nowhere to go.
GAF wanted a solution and now has three patents for making recycled asphalt shingles. The old shingles are ground down, the impurities removed and the remaining powder mixed into new roofing shingles. At the test facility in Tampa, Florida, more than 90 percent of the asphalt was successfully salvaged and new shingles were made with 15 percent recycled asphalt, without the loss of quality or product performance.
GAF hopes to refine the process and improve even more on the numbers, but there’s a wider vision at work. Some analysts predict the global market for asphalt shingles will grow to US$10 billion by 2026, and rising demand spans Europe and Asia too.
The company expects that its process can be used by other roofing manufacturers and is investing $100 million to help reduce the fossil fuel inputs and related emissions in the entire industry.
“Long-term, the company is working to prevent torn-off shingles from going to landfills at all,” says GAF.
The GAF research team also is looking at how the process might be applied to other asphalt products used in the automotive industry, waterproofing and more.
“This has the potential, if successfully scaled, to create a circular economy for asphalt in general — not just in roofing,” the company says.