While Americans are accustomed to thinking about recycling their newspapers and beverage containers, the most widely recycled product in terms of both percentage and tonnage is actually asphalt pavement.
According to a report issued by the Federal Highway Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 80 percent of the asphalt pavement thats removed each year during widening and resurfacing projects is reused as part of new roads, roadbeds, shoulders and embankments.
According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association, approximately 73 million tons of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) are reused, or nearly twice as much as the combined total of 40 million tons of recycled paper, glass, aluminum and plastics.
Relatively few people outside the pavement industry, however, know the extent of asphalt pavement recycling. In a survey commissioned by NAPA, Americans ranked asphalt pavement as being recycled the least among nine materials. (The others were aluminum, glass, paper, plastic, rubber, steel, wood and yard waste.)
For the asphalt pavement industry an 80 percent recycling rate is an everyday business practice.
"Using RAP results in lower costs. We use less virgin material and, by avoiding trips to the landfill, we use less diesel fuel. Considering today's fuel prices, these savings add up considerably for taxpayers on public road projects," commented Kevin Kennebeck of Performance Paving.
Other findings from NAPA help portray the state of recycling in America. For example, most Americans take part in at least some sort of recycling program. The survey showed that more than three-quarters (77 percent) said they recycle at least some aluminum cans. About two-thirds (67 percent) said they recycle newspapers, along with 65 percent who said they recycle plastic bottles; 60 percent, glass bottles; 58 percent, magazines; 55 percent, plastic bags, 54 percent, tin cans; and 53 percent who said they recycle white paper.