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Asphalt Recycling and Sustainability

Recycled vs Virgin Mix Asphalt

As asphalt paving contractors a large part of what we do includes the asphaltic concrete material that is used on the roads and parking lots we pave. In most cases, this material is the highest expense of a project. Considering this fact, the goal becomes saving money on materials so that our company and our clients can all benefit from those savings. In the concrete and asphalt industry, there are actually quite a few different options when choosing an asphalt material for a client’s project. One, for example, is the choice between recycled and non-recycled, or virgin, asphalt.

Let’s start from the beginning: What is asphalt?

Asphaltic concrete is a compound of asphalt binder, or bitumen, and aggregate (which is just rock). When heated, this mixture forms a material that is durable and flexible, perfect for motor vehicles. Bitumen is an oil product, but it is also a naturally occurring material. In the United States, asphalt is primarily used in roadway construction. But one of its main ingredients being an oil product, asphalt is a non-renewable resource. This means that anything we, in the construction and concrete industry, can do to prolong our stores is beneficial for sustainability. Fortunately, the industry has created a model utilizing recycling of asphalt to promote this objective. 

Going Green

It has been a longstanding perspective that the best asphalt was virgin asphalt. But this notion has been challenged over time by research which has been practically applied and has shown that this may not be the case after all. Studies have proven that asphalt is one of the most-recycled materials in the country which is basically done by mixing old asphalt with new asphalt and generating new product. This practice decreases expenses and creates a much more sustainable industry.

In light of this, the question is, “Do these mixes incorporating recycled materials perform on par or nearly as well as mixes using just virgin (new) asphalt?”. Fortunately, studies and field experience tell us, “Yes!”. A Federal Highway Administration report from 2011 states that, “… it has been determined that the performance of pavements containing up to 30 percent RAP is similar to that of pavements constructed from virgin materials with no RAP.”3 What this means to us is that, as a contractor, assuming the mix design is specified correctly and other conditions are met, we can be confident in using these types of mixes on your project. This means less cost with a similar quality level.

But the question is: Does recycled material perform as well as non-recycled asphalt? Those same studies which have shaped the field tell us, yes they do! Without diving too deeply into the jargon of the asphalt world, these studies give us confidence that using recycled asphalt is not only cheaper and more sustainable, but just as effective as virgin material.

Next time you are considering a new paving project, be sure to discuss the different mixes that are available to you. It isn’t always a necessary cost to pay for virgin mixes of asphalt when a recycled one could get the job done just as well!

Contact your local Kansas City experts at Davenport Construction and Asphalt to inquire further! We will be happy to help!

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