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Are Shingles Environmentally Friendly?

GAF is blazing a path toward more environmentally responsible manufacturing and construction.

After roof shingles are ripped off a home and thrown in a dumpster they typically head to a landfill. Each year, the removal of old asphalt shingles generates more than 1.6 billion square feet of waste—11 million tons. But not for long. After years of research and innovation, GAF, North America’s largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer, is rolling out a new process to recycle asphalt shingles.

“When you think about what manufacturing is today and what it could look like in the future, circularity has become crucial,” says the company’s CEO, Jim Schnepper. “It’s important to us that we do business in a sustainable way to be good citizens of the planet. And as we optimize recycling, it may help create efficiencies and even new industries.”

Shingle recycling process

A Cost-Neutral Solution

Roof shingles are made from asphalt— an oil-based byproduct of gasoline and fuel manufacturing. The challenge for recycling is that when a roof is removed from a home, the shingles are mixed together with other materials, such as nails and underlayment. This requires separating the desired materials from the stream, a process that, until now, has been prohibitively expensive. “Cost is an issue for most recycling, and it’s no different for roofing,” Schnepper says. “One of the parameters for creating this new process was to be able to recycle at a cost that was neutral.”

GAF first began considering the problem about 10 years ago, but when Schnepper took over as GAF’s president in 2016, he prioritized the project, with the goal of developing the industry’s first asphalt shingle containing post-consumer waste. (Schnepper assumed the CEO role in 2021.)

The new process has two stages: First, a dry stage removes the granules and impurities from the asphalt, allowing roughly 90% of the old material to be repackaged as a briquette of usable asphalt. Schnepper says the recycled asphalt briquette represents a new raw material, a product that GAF can use to make new shingles or even sell to paving companies and other manufacturers.

The second stage is a wet process, in which the recycled asphalt is reintroduced into new shingles. Right now, the materials from one old roof can create enough shingles with recycled content for about 12 new roofs. The shingles have been UL-certified for safety and effectiveness.

Retooling To Scale

GAF plans to use recycled material in its primary product lines, which will require it to retool existing facilities to run the new process. In total, the company will have spent more than $100 million researching, developing, testing, and scaling the capability.

“Our focus on innovation is an important part of what we do as a company and diverting roofing materials from landfills and establishing a circular economy for roofing products in North America is one of our long-term sustainability goals,” Schnepper says. “David Millstone and David Winter, the co-CEOs of our parent company, Standard Industries, have made innovation an absolute priority and have been champions of the recycled shingle process since its inception. This is a compelling opportunity for us, and I hope it causes other roofing manufacturers to ask what they can do.”

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