Why Recycle Shingles?

Recycling shingles can be much cheaper than taking them to a landfill depending on your location. Landfill fees can cost $35–55 per ton, while most recyclers charge around $18–20 per ton. It is cost-effective and eliminates the need to use up space in landfills. Some cities have actually started to ban landfilling shingles because of their obvious value to be recycled and space they take up in landfills.

The Numbers.

Asphalt roof shingles are used on more than 80% of homes in America. They last from 10-30 years depending on the initial quality and quality of the roofer that installed them. An old roof can be stripped off and the new shingles installed in as little as a day or up to a week, depending on the size of the crew, the complexity of the roof, and weather conditions. Most roofs weigh 1-4 tons, so that’s a lot of material kept out of the landfill if you choose to recycle it.

According to NAPA, the National Asphalt Pavement Association, approximately 13.2 million tons of asphalt roofing shingles are disposed of each year. Residential roof tear-offs account for around 10 million of those tons. Many customers would be happy to know that their old roof is going to be used again and not just dumped.

From shingles keeping you dry, to ground up powder, then to the roads you drive on.
From shingles keeping you dry, to ground up powder, then to the roads you drive on.

What are shingles made of?

Asphalt shingles are composed of 20%–40% asphalt, 40%–70% aggregate granules, and 1%–25% base materials. The base material of the shingles is either made up of organic material in a felt mat, or fiberglass is used to strengthen the shingle. Granules are added to the shingle for aesthetic purposes, they provide UV protection and reflect some of the heat of the sun. Many have additives to prohibit the growth of moss and algae.

Shingles are engineered to handle wind, rain, hail, sun and ice for many years, and when added to a landfill, they dont rot, that just take up space. Estimates say that they can break down over the course of about 300 years or so.

The cross section of an asphalt shingle.
The cross section of an asphalt shingle.

How recycled shingles add value.

The asphalt binder is the most expensive component of an asphalt mix, costing as much as $600 per liquid ton. So the high asphalt content, the aggregate, and the fiber base materials in the shingles make it perfect to add to the asphalt road material.

While the binder for asphalt is considered the bottom of the barrel product from refinement, it must pass rigorous tests to be the correct quality. So it goes through a secondary refinement, then special additives are blended with it for the location that it will be used. This process is where the added cost comes from. Then they must carefully engineer the mixture to account for the shingle’s significant stiffness and high melting point.

The asphalt binder in liquid form.
The asphalt binder in liquid form.

If the mix is too soft, it can rut and move too much in hot weather, and too brittle and it will crack apart too easily in cold winter months. They also engineer it to be soft while it is in the dump truck being delivered but firm up quickly as it cools. Therefore, a binder used in the Sonoran Desert of California would have different properties than one used in northern Alaskan.

Where are recycled shingles are used?

Two million tons of recycled asphalt shingle material was utilized in pavement across the U.S. in 2015, saving taxpayers $2.6 billion, according to one report. In 2017, asphalt producers in 29 states reported using recycled asphalt shingles in their mix for roadways. At the current utilization level, asphalt producers are only consuming about 9% of the available shingle waste stock.

Shingles, felt, nails, and asphalt underlayments can get recycled into reusable material. The steel nails are picked out by a magnet and sent to steel recyclers, so they don’t want any aluminum nails in the dumpster as they won’t get picked out by the magnets. The shingles are shredded to the consistency of coffee grounds before they are added to the asphalt mix. Any organic fibers from felt or the shingles are burned off in the drying process just before the asphalt binder is added.

Recycling shingles doesn’t need government subsidies to be profitable.

One roofer in Canada saw the opportunity, and bought a shredder, and set his hours to accommodate roofers. He is staying open later and charging less than the landfill, in addition to locating his yard closer to the city than the dump. Roofers quickly began to sort their loads for him, keeping plastic wood and trash in the separate bags he provided. The fee to bring the shingles to him was 50% less than the dump, so a little extra work made it worth it for them. Working with government and private companies, he is selling ground-up roofing as fast as he can make it.

Grinding old asphalt shingles to recycle them.
Grinding old asphalt shingles to recycle them.

Where to recycle shingles?

You don’t need to be an expert on asphalt to see the positive reasons to recycle shingles. It keeps the material out of landfills and it makes paving roads a little cheaper. One roofing job doesn’t seem like much in the big picture, but if you are doing a roof every few days, you can make a big difference.

While recycling is great, it needs to also be convenient, so there is an increasing number of recyclers that are getting into the shingle shredding business. Here are some resources to help you find a recycler near you.

  • Shinglerecycleing.org is a part of the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association, which also recycles concrete, drywall, wood, and asphalt. Learn more about coal-fired power plants, synthetic gypsum, and recycling drywall here.
  • Earth911.com provides a list of recyclers near you, and they offer a search for a wide range of recyclers for many different products in your area. I was surprised by some of the things that I found were recyclable, and the companies that take them were right down the road from my house. Learn more about the standard things that can be recycled here.
  • 1-800 CLEANUP is a number that you can call to find someone locally that will take your shingles. It is a service by Earth911.
  • Owens Corning has a contractor finder, to help you locate a roofer that recycles shingles.
  • Asphaltroofing.org has more info and some links to good articles.

If you found this article helpful, please share it, you probably know someone that might learn something new from it. Thanks and stay curious!

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