All About Asphalt

Asphalt is the heart of our roads and infrastructure, and better yet, it is the most recycled material in America. Asphalt is the top reused and recycled good, above paper, plastic, and cans. The question on most people’s minds, is how is one of the most important aspects of our infrastructure also the most recyclable? The answers have to do with sustainability, circular economy, and perpetual pavement.

Asphalt provides value to our communities by offering smooth roads that decrease vehicle maintenance costs. The usage of asphalt pavement helps our communities, the amount of money that is budgeted and invested, and their futures due to the recycled nature of asphalt. The recyclability, smoothness, and speed of construction that asphalt provides saves pavement owners on both construction and maintenance costs. And lastly, asphalt provides a solution for the future via being recyclable and offering benefits over the pavement’s life cycle for a low carbon footprint. Asphalt is rarely reconstructed, so by offering a superior salvage value, it can ensure a longer life cycle. (1)

Perpetual Pavement Preventing Pollution

Perpetual pavement is described as a three-layer, flexible pavement design and construction concept that produces a deep-strength asphalt pavement that can resist structural fatigue distress for at least 50 years. (2) When a road that utilizes perpetual pavement needs rehabilitation, the road crews will mill off the top layer and apply a new surface of the road. The top layer that the crew mills off is recycled and reused for future projects.

The process of rehabilitating the road can often be done overnight, limiting the effect on drivers. This can be extremely convenient for not only the drivers, but the crew themselves. It can reduce the potential for work zone accidents.

Circular Economy – What is it?

The circular economy is a system that ultimately eliminates waste by using and re-using materials continuously. Asphalt starts as a bi-product, is used to create many of the roads we drive on, and when it is done correctly, it can last decades because of its durable nature. When the road needs to be reconstructed, the asphalt that is put down originally can be reused and reapplied with that same material.

The benefits and advantages of reusing asphalt and how it contributes to the circular economy are significant. “Asphalt pavement itself is the most recycled product in the world. That is just based on the fact that anything that is removed from projects actually gets used back at the plant”, states Megan Yount, a pavement materials engineer at The Heritage Group. The recycling process of asphalt pavement saves both money and material. This is known as a circular economy, as asphalt pavement that is used and needs to eventually be removed, will be sent back to plants to be upcycled and reused for future projects. To watch the full interview of Megan Yount with WISH-TV, click the link below:

When compared to the linear system of take, make, waste, and dispose, the circular economy eliminates waste, captures resources, and strives to be more restorative for nature and the well-being of our planet as a whole. It functions to keep the products and materials in use for longer time periods to improve the efficiency and productivity of our resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a continuous system. By rethinking and reinventing our relationship with materials, we can redistribute the responsibility for managing the waste that exists to then create a more resilient future.

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Image above captures the concept of a circular economy extracted from Circular Indiana Blog (link below).