Building Blocks: Recycled Materials are Essential to Modern Infrastructure

May 13, 2024, 15:13 PM
Content author:
Kristen Hildreth
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The recycled materials industry transforms end-of-life or otherwise obsolete items and materials into essential components that support and enable our everyday lives. From the roads we travel on to the bridges we drive over, and the homes we live in, recycled materials are the cornerstone of the infrastructure supply chain. They provide essential industrial ingredients such as steel, iron, aluminum, plastics, rubber, and glass for both public infrastructure and private construction projects.

Recycled materials are integral in building and maintaining modern infrastructure — here’s how they help make a difference:

  • Steel: A primary component in a vast array of public infrastructure — including bridges, tunnels, train tracks, and ports – steel is infinitely recyclable, no matter how many times a product is recycled the material does not lose its strength or integrity. More than 70% of the steel manufactured in the United States is “green steel,” made from recycled material.
  • Plastics: Recycled plastics play a crucial role in upgrading the nation’s water and transportation systems. They are used in drainage pipes, integrated into durable asphalt roadways and used in composite ties for rail systems, which are anticipated to improve the lifespan of railroad ties while diverting plastic and glass from landfills.
  • Aluminum: Essential in the transmission and distribution of energy, and a key component in solar panel frameworks, aluminum accounts for nearly 85% of most solar photovoltaic components. Aluminum is highly recyclable, with nearly 90% of aluminum sourced from industrial sectors such as the automotive and building sectors. Using recycled aluminum requires just 5% of the energy needed to manufacture new aluminum, underscoring its efficiency and sustainability.
  • Rubber: Recycled rubber can enhance paving, sidewalks, and porous piping systems. Research from the University of Missouri and the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association has found that compared to regular asphalt, rubberized asphalt produces 34% less CO2 emissions, doubles the lifespan of roads, and costs 43% less over the road’s lifecycle compared to traditional asphalt.

Utilizing recycled materials in infrastructure projects conserves natural resources, reduces energy and water use, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. The logistics and facilities that make recycling possible are the backbone of a sustainable materials management system — keeping high quality materials in the manufacturing supply chain and setting the stage for a greener and more sustainable planet.

As United for Infrastructure launches its 12th annual Infrastructure Week, it’s crucial for ReMA and the broader recycled materials industry to highlight the vital role recycled materials play in modernizing and sustaining the nation’s infrastructure. If you’re interested in learning more about how using recycled materials in infrastructure can lead to a more sustainable future, reach out to ReMA staff!

The recycled materials industry transforms end-of-life or otherwise obsolete items and materials into essential components...
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