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Paving mixes shouldn't turn roads into linear landfills

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by Jean Sorensen

If asphalt road recycling is to benefit future generations, then paving mixes can't be treated like linear landfill, said an Interior British Columbia road paving executive specializing in green road recycling.
Green Road Recycling vehicle
Green Road Recycling vehicle

If asphalt road recycling is to benefit future generations, then paving mixes can't be treated like linear landfill, said an Interior British Columbia road paving executive specializing in green road recycling.

“There is a green wash,” said Shane Stothert, a partner and general manager of Green Roads Recycling Ltd., headquartered in Fernie, B.C.

He added that some people think a road is a good place to dump garbage.

The garbage he is referring to is old recycled tire rubber added to the mix, or sulfur, asbestos, plastics and waste oil with heavy metals.

“It’s being seen as a way to reduce landfill,” he said.

However, Stothert called it a green wash because on the surface it seems like a good idea to preserve the environment, but it isn’t.

“It is short-term thinking that short-changes future generations,” Stothert said.

Such roads can become toxic stews when they fall apart and, in cases where asbestos has been used, a safety hazard for workers who will be removing the roadbed.

Roadbeds with contaminants can not be recycled, which is what Green Roads does.

“This type of green wash is going to kill my business,” he said, admitting he’s on a lone crusade to raise awareness about what green roads really mean.

Green Roads has been a pioneer in road recycling and this year was a finalist in the 8th Annual Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Deputy Minister’s Contractor Awards in the paving category for its work on Highway 1 from Yale to Boston Bar.

The $4 million, 7,600 tonne resurfacing project was completed using hot in-place recycling.

Skip Stothert, Shane’s father, started the company in 1989, during a time of rising oil prices.

“He saw this as a diminishing resource,” said Stothert.

“Green was great, but that was not the bottom line.”

As Skip moved into semi-retirement, Stothert along with brother Jamie, the operations manger, took over as the green element of recycling grew.

Stothert credits the company with creating innovative equipment, including machines that heat the pavement, which are used today by Green Roads.

The company uses hot-in-place technology to recycle a road.

There are two versions: scarification, which removes a one-inch road layer, and the more extensive remix version, which takes off two inches of pavement.

“The remix is a more superior version,” he said.

The layer is deeper and a more extensive layer of recycled asphalt is laid.

Green Roads uses a train of equipment that stretches 300-feet long over the road surface.

The removal and resurfacing is done assembly line style, in a two-step process.

Essentially, a series of machines heat the surface and in two phases, the milling machines each sheer off an inch of asphalt.

The material is picked up and mixed with some new material and then the recycled asphalt is extruded onto the road and placed using rolling equipment, which forms the end of the train.

“We travel 15-20 feet a minute and we can do about 3.5 to five kilometres a day of single lane road,” he said.

All equipment has been equipped to reduce emissions.

“You won’t see any blue or black smoke coming from our equipment,” he said.

Reusing road asphalt is cheaper than trucking old road surface to a disposal site and trucking in new materials.

The cost savings can vary.

“We say that it is on average 30 per cent cheaper,” said Stothert. “It varies with the geographical location of the road, the cost of aggregate and where the asphalt plant is.”

Stothert does know that recycling roadbed is important for the environment in the long-term.

A study done by the University of British Columbia estimates that the recycling of road surfaces by Green Roads reduces green house gas emissions by 27 tons per kilometre.

“But, when you think about the cost of drilling an oil well, the processing and refining of oil – not to mention the things that can’t be quantified such as pollution and diseases such as cancers – there is a huge impact on society and the environment,” he said.

It also takes 500,000 BTUs to produce a tonne of new asphalt, but to recycle in place existing asphalt takes only 200,000 BTUs.

“There is no reason for us to be wasting and hauling this material away,” he said.

Stothert is adamant that roadbuilders and engineers designing roads think about the long term and whether roads in the future will be safe to recycle.

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