My first exposure to the concept of recycling asphalt shingles goes back to the late 1970s, when a fellow named Joe set up a shingle-recycling business in South Florida. He wore pointy-toed lizard boots, which made me suspicious. But the concept was just so darn compelling.

Joe was going to change the world by taking loads of shingle tear-off, separating the metal and wood, grinding up the asphalt and aggregate, and selling it for paving. Long story short: it did not work out the way he planned it.

Joe sold coupons to roofing contractors so they could dump their loads on a piece of land he had leased for the purpose. The price was very low compared to fees being charged by the landfill. Joe never did grind up the shingles that he ultimately left there. Not sure if the machinery failed or if there was no market or if he just left with the money.

A similar plan was hatched around a decade later in my hometown, and the results were identical. In both of these situations, I want to believe the operators believed their schemes would succeed. They either did not plan well or their process did not work or there simply were no buyers for the finished product. There were always plenty of roofing contractors looking for a way to save some money on dump fees, so I know that part of the process was not a challenge.

Things have changed over the past decade, and the future of shingle recycling looks bright. All of the challenges are not out of the way, but I believe we will see a business model develop that will allow recyclers to operate successfully. 

The hurdles to making an asphalt shingle recycling enterprise succeed remain fairly significant. It takes a special kind of zoning to store roofing refuse and process it into products that can be sold for a profit. There must be a strong local demand for the processed shingles, as shipping it long distances is a non-starter. The cost of land and machinery is fairly steep and must be financed up front.

There is, however, a value proposition beyond a profitable enterprise that should prompt roofing contractors’ interest in recycling. Your customers would prefer you not put their old roof in a landfill, and some are willing to pay a premium to have you recycle it instead. All things being equal, nearly all consumers would prefer to have you recycle.

So what if you are in a market where shingle recycling is not available? What can you do to either attract an existing processor or investor to come in and get it started or start one yourself?

The business of turning asphalt shingles into a component of paving asphalts is not for the faint-hearted. Beyond the capital requirements, the up-front research into markets, machinery and processes are significant. I do know, however, of roofing contractors who have been instrumental in locating shingle recyclers in their area and at least one who started his own shingle recycling business.

With asphalt prices remaining at record highs and a consuming public that buys in, the timing should be right to look into recycling. Recycling is a good business practice, and you may discover it is a good addition to your roofing business.