Roofing giant GAF says it’s the most significant sustainability initiative it’s ever taken on.
Unlike many other places, which may use materials like slate and terracotta for roofs, North America predominantly covers houses with asphalt shingles. About 75% of U.S. roofs are covered by this material, due to its low cost, water-repelling qualities, and ease of installation. But, the abundance of the material puts strain on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 11 million tons of asphalt waste is generated every year, most of which ends up in landfills. It takes about 300 years to decompose.
The shingles are removed from roofs, and sent back to GAF in large chunks. They chop those into four-inch squares, remove the rock granules (which they then set aside and reuse later). The pieces, rich in asphalt, are ground up into a powder, and then compacted into small briquettes “that [look] a lot like the charcoal that you’ve used on your grill,” Boss says. Those are taken to a plant, where they’re melted at a high temperature in a tank. They’re combined with new raw materials to create new shingles, which contain up to 15% recycled material.
Schnepper stresses the company’s commitment to finding sustainable new means of roofing, even if that means turning to novel materials. But, asphalt isn’t going anywhere; in fact, the market is growing, likely to surpass $9.5 billion in size by 2025. So, for now, circular shingles are the way to make the most difference. “The potential impact of this product,” he says, “clearly makes it the most significant sustainability initiative that we, at GAF, have ever taken on.”