EPA’s National Recycling Strategy Offers an Opportunity

Recycling received a big push last fall from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the creation of a National Recycling Strategy.

Aggregate, concrete, and asphalt producers have long practiced recycling of concrete and asphalt materials and incorporated other waste products—fly ash, slag, shingles—in their products. These practices have had immense benefits in conservation of natural resources of aggregates, limestone, and oil; keeping heavy and bulky material out of our landfills; and reducing greenhouse gases through less extraction, manufacturing, or transportation.  

But, recycling has seemed to get lost in other high profile environmental issues. And, a lot has been accomplished over the past 20 years or so. For instance, through industry efforts, Caltrans allows up to 100% recycled material in pavement bases, up to 25% reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) in asphalt, reclaimed concrete aggregate in minor concrete, widespread use of fly ash, and has a standard specification for the use of returned plastic concrete in minor concrete.  

Caltrans has also recently developed a form to track the amount of recycled material used on their projects, which should help better quantify the opportunity for use of recycled materials.

However, further progress has been slowed. Initial efforts are underway in California to allow up to 40% RAP in asphalt pavements, allowance of recycled asphalt shingles, use of aggregate from recycled concrete in concrete pavements and other applications, and widespread acceptance of returned plastic concrete, among others.  

And, where the state makes strides, local governments are not quick to follow. For instance, too many local governments still prohibit use of recycled materials for road base or prohibit the use of RAP in their asphalt pavements.

The good news is that the National Recycling Strategy makes a call for the nation, states, local government and industry to do even more. They have announced the overall strategy and are now in the process of putting together work groups to implement the strategy. There should be more information in March.

While the strategy will initially focus on municipal solid waste, subsequent actions will address construction and industrial materials.  CalCIMA recently shared with the U.S. EPA in a letter what materials producers have been doing and where more can be done.  

Members are encouraged to share their ideas and get involved, too. There is a website dedicated to the Recycling Strategy, and several links for how you can participate, propose actions, or take action!