Game Changer

Feb. 1, 2023
How asphalt can assist planet preservation

By Toni L. Robinson, Contributing Author

Asphalt is the key to enhanced road performance, and how it is applied has a direct impact on the wellbeing of the planet.

Industry organizations have already begun to do their part to ensure asphalt is part of the solution to help preserve Earth’s atmosphere, but there is still work to be done.

According to a summary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), “the transportation sector in the United States is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.” What does this mean for the asphalt industry?

A Commitment to Reducing the Carbon Footprint

Organizations within various sectors are focused on implementing sustainable business practices to reduce a negative environmental impact. The asphalt sector is no different. Industry organizations realize the impact of roadway construction on people and the planet at large. Applying measures to reduce the carbon footprint has become a shared responsibility for preserving the environment for future generations.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which directly effects the rate at which global warming occurs, sits at the heart of this quest to preserve the environment. In our industry, there is opportunity to further encourage the utilization of practices to help decrease these emissions while maintaining the functionality and optimum performance of roadways over time.

Industry organizations, such as the Asphalt Recycling and Reclaiming Association (ARRA), among others, have committed to the goal of preserving natural resources while also promoting techniques, like in-place recycling and reclaiming, that allow for reduced emissions, more efficient construction, improved long-term performance, extended life cycles and, of course, cost savings.

The Role of Recycling and Reclaiming Techniques in GHG Reduction

Throughout America, agencies have seen many benefits associated with environmentally friendly approaches to pavement maintenance, preservation and rehabilitation, including saving millions of dollars and reducing the amount of energy consumed when compared to traditional processes like conventional asphalt paving.

In-place asphalt recycling and reclaiming are among the techniques industry organizations rely on and promote to help enhance pavement structures without causing harm to the environment. These techniques, which include processes like hot in-place recycling (HIR), cold in-place recycling (CIR), full depth reclamation (FDR) and cold central plant recycling (CCPR),  provide significant sustainability, versatility, safer construction and resiliency, and have proven to be key to significant reductions in GHG emissions across the country. Ways in which this reduction is achieved through these and other recycling processes include a reduction in material import, a reduction in trucks needed to haul material, a reduction in construction times and energy consumption, and improved landfill diversion.

Regarding landfill diversion: the more material that has to be transported to landfills, the greater the rate of emissions to be produced or given off by those landfills. Additionally, landfills can be a source of soil and groundwater pollution. As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Adopting more environmentally friendly techniques, like in-place processes using recycled asphalt, is a direct way to support landfill diversion and minimize harm.

With the heightened focus on reducing the risk of environmental harm, it is imperative that agencies are equipped with the knowledge and available resources, including access to in-place recycling and reclaiming technologies, to ensure the right criteria are met to facilitate this reduction while also minimizing maintenance/project costs, extending the life cycle of pavements, promoting a quick return to traffic and providing a smoother and more crack-resistant pavement for the traveling public. Note that these technologies can often be applied while a roadway remains in service without preventing any freight movement and increasing congestion, further adding to the positive environmental impact.

Through continued education and training on the benefits and best practices for in-place recycling and reclaiming, agencies stand to save millions while meeting goals as set forth in the the IIJA, which promotes technologies and processes that enable environmental benefits, impacting the overall climate crisis.

Asphalt Leads the Way

The versatility of asphalt makes it suitable for meeting environmental needs while improving performance and extending the service life of roadways. With an eye toward long-term sustainability, associations within the asphalt industry, like ARRA, are leading the way in environmentally conscious progress and green solutions for pavement maintenance, rehabilitation and preservation efforts, ultimately reducing negative environmental impacts on planet Earth. R&B

Toni L. Robinson is a content coordinator for Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions

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