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Markets in Transition: Look Up—Spotting a Missed Recycling Opportunity For Innovative Pallet Recyclers
Rick LeBlanc identifies yet another new business opportunity for enterprising pallet recyclers – asphalt roofing shingles.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 10/1/2011
A number of smart pallet recyclers are looking for other materials that they can recycle to boost business even if their core pallet operations bounce back this year. One intriguing niche market may be right on top of you. Actually, only 5-15% of this potential market is currently being recycled. Do I have your attention yet?
This untapped market is asphalt roofing shingles, which I first came across in the late 1990s while I was a guest speaker at the National Roofing Contractors Association Convention. I presented a study on pallet standardization I had done for the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association in order to promote pallet reuse and recycling in the roofing industry. The other speaker in the session discussed using RAS (Recycled asphalt shingles) for aggregate and road shoulder material as an alternative to sending them to the landfill. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but flash forward several years later, and now shingle recycling appears like an idea that is starting to heat up.
Looking at the big picture, asphalt shingles are used in approximately two-thirds of all homeroofing jobs, both new and replacement. That amounts to around 10 million tons annually of shingle “tear-off” waste, with the generation of around another one million tons of manufacturing scrap. Traditionally, the tear-off portion of this material has been directed to landfills, but the advent of asphalt shingle recycling provides a multiple win-win opportunity for solid waste managers, recycling entrepreneurs, paving companies, and of course the public at large.
And it is an emerging opportunity in some parts of the country. According to Dan Krivit, Senior Project Manager at Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC, perhaps only 5 -15% of tear-off shingles are being recycled nationally. Dan, who is a leading consultant specializing in asphalt shingle recycling, noted that some metropolitan areas and states have good recycling infrastructure in place while others do not. In certain cases, there is less demand where state Department of Transport (DOT) authorities have not specified an allowable RAS content for roads. He stressed, however, that even in those states, RAS material can still be used for private projects and other jobs not requiring the state DOT specification. To really propel the industry forward, leadership and inter-agency coordination continues to be needed with respect to moving more states towards accepting RAS content in hot mix asphalt.
Here’s how an asphalt recycling program can work. Landfills are under pressure to divert more material so that they will last longer. Asphalt shingle recyclers have the opportunity to offer lower tippage (dumping) fees than the landfill, thus saving money to roofing contractors and others looking to dispose of tear-offs, while also diverting material from the landfill. Recycled material is attractive to paving companies as it provides a lower price point than new material. Also using recycled material increases the ecological footprint of the industry. By introducing a percentage of RAS content, paving companies can also reduce their material costs.
In simple terms, the recycling process involves these steps:
1. Receipt and scaling of incoming material.
2. Inspection and removal of non-shingle waste.
3. Grinding of material in a range of ¼” to 2 ½ “ depending upon intended usage.
4. Recycling of other waste, including metal flashing, nails, cardboard and wood sheathing.
The business model is predicated on generating revenue from tippage, as well as selling material generated through the recycling process. The incentive for roofers and others looking to dispose of tear-offs is to reduce the total cost of disposal. This cost is a function of the landfill tippage charge, plus the expense of transportation. To the extent that the recycler is closer to the metropolitan area than the landfill, and to the degree that the recycler can offer lower tippage fees than the landfill, it should be successful in generating incoming material flow.
The amount the recycler can charge depends on the cost of that landfill alternative. According to Rotochopper, a manufacturer of specialized grinding systems for RAS, shingle recyclers typically receive tipping fees ranging from $20 to $75 per ton to accept shingle waste. Rotochopper claims that its RG-1 has the lowest operating costs of any shingle grinding equipment, and this income alone can make shingle recycling with an RG-1 profitable.
Recycled material also generates value. To take a step back, asphalt shingles are fabricated from four basic materials. Two of them, asphalt cement and mineral granules, make RAS very attractive as an additive or feedstock substitute for paving material. Asphalt cement typically constitutes between 19 – 36% of shingle weight, and is valued at $200 - $500 per ton. In terms of pricing, RAS material that is 20% asphalt material can be expected to have a proportionate value based on 20% of total weight.
At the Rotochopper website, some examples are provided of how asphalt shingle recycling can be profitable. In one such case, a recycler receives a modest $20 per ton tippage for inbound material, and a reasonable $350 per ton for asphalt cement value on outbound material. With the Rotochopper processing 75 tons per hour, revenue includes:
$20 x 75 =$1,500 (tippage on total incoming amount)
$350 x 75(@ 20% content of asphalt cement) = $5,250
Revenue of $1,500 + $5,250 = $6,750 per hour (less minus operating expenses)
Like most any type of business opportunity, asphalt shingle recycling presents its own challenges and opportunities. One consideration is state level DOT pavement specifications. Those areas of the country allowing a percentage of tear-off shingles can anticipate a hotter market than those that do not. Be aware that the situation is changing, with tear-offs being gradually accepted in more states.
One risk that recyclers must also manage is the possibility of asbestos exposure. Between 1963 and 1977, three of the largest shingle manufacturers used a small amount of asbestos in the fiber mat of shingles, and as such, part of the incoming inspection. While laboratory testing is required to detect asbestos, a visual inspection can help identify very old or suspicious loads that might have a higher potential to contain asbestos.
Despite these challenges, asphalt shingle recycling may be a viable option for pallet recyclers to expand their recycling operations beyond their traditional business into some emerging markets.
Next Steps to Explore the Viability of Shingle Recycling
If you are interested in finding out more about asphalt shingle recycling, a good place to start is to visit asphalt shingle recycling content at the Rotochopper website, as well as the www.shinglerecycling.org website, which provides additional details on a state by state basis. The latter group hosts the 5th Asphalt Shingle Recycling Forum to be held in Dallas on Oct 27 – 28, which if you are interested in pursuing this opportunity, might be well worth attending.