GAF is taking its boldest step yet in addressing shingle waste by launching a new patented recycling process that developers hope will jumpstart industrywide change.

“With Earth Day upon us, I’m really happy to announce that GAF has successfully produced shingles with 15% recycled material,” said GAF President Jim Schnepper in an exclusive video chat with RC.

After several years of research, Schnepper explained how the company successfully produced the industry’s first asphalt roofing shingles containing recycled material from post-consumer and post-manufacture waste shingles that otherwise would have headed to a landfill. The breakthrough reduces the amount of raw materials required to make new shingles without compromising product quality or performance.

“This latest innovation from GAF represents the first major step towards a circular economy for asphalt roofing shingles,” he said. “We envision a future where every homeowner, when replacing their roof, can do so with high-quality, affordable shingles made with recycled asphalt.”

GAF is banking on it, committing more than $100 million to bringing this recycling process to commercial scale across every category of shingle.

Two-Step Innovation

The process has a distinct dry phase — where granules are removed from post-consumer shingles, which are then ground up and processed into a briquette. The briquettes are then broken down during a wet phase and returned to the traditional shingle production process, said Dan Boss, senior vice president of research and development.

GAF Recycled Asphalt ShinglesIn testing, GAF was able to reclaim more than 90% of the waste shingle material, by weight, to be reused in the manufacture of new shingles. The largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer in North America also proved it could manufacture new shingles containing up to 15% recycled material that were UL-certified for their safety and effectiveness. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued GAF three patents covering this new shingle recycling process.     

Others have tried to address post-consumer shingle waste before, and reached technical achievements. However, the economics never favored companies continuing to research and innovate.

“Looking back at the challenges they faced, it was really the balance of affordability and performance of the final product,” Boss explained. “Efforts were centered on getting either very clean asphalt, or making the cost of recycling so low that it was affordable. And that balance was never struck. When we set out to focus on that sweet spot — getting a quality product at an affordable cost.”

And the learning isn’t over. Part of the $100-million investment to bring the recycling process to commercial scale includes a pilot program that will provide additional research on process, costs, and just how far they can push the reclamation process. Boss said 15% is just the starting point. Through the pilot, GAF expects to assess the maximum amount of recycled asphalt that can be used to make new shingles while still meeting high standards. The pilot should also help optimize the manufacturing process prior to scaling it across all operations.

“Our goal was to scale this pilot program across all the networks of the GAF plants in order to put across all the products that we manufacture — so that all of the products will contain some percentage of post-consumer recycled product,” Schnepper said.

Part of what they hope to learn through the pilot program includes understanding where the best locations are to keep the movement of shingle waste efficient across the continent, and keep costs low. One engineered advantage is that the dry and wet phases do not have to be co-located, meaning the briquettes can be created and where the post-consumer shingle waste is concentrated, and can be easily transported anywhere else.

The Race is On

The innovation couldn’t have come at a more critical time.

Shingle waste is a growing problem across North America, where an estimated 13 million tons sits in landfills, and more is produced every single day. Historically, the majority of recycled asphalt shingle waste went into pavement and road production. However that practice is trending downward and quickly, meaning more shingle waste is on its way to the dump. Communities are taking notice, and some are even pushing back against the growth of “shingle mountains” — 8-10 story-tall mounds of torn off shingles and roofing waste — popping up around them.

To Schnepper, the overwhelming numbers sent a clear message that bold steps need to be taken in order to ensure the roofing industry’s future, when it came to asphalt.

“It’s important as an industry that we really solve this issue. If we don’t, we could potentially be written out of building codes simply because our product has to end up in either a recycled program of some kind, or in a landfill. And landfills are beginning to fill up,” he said.

The leadership and sense of urgency should not be overlooked, said Tad Radzinski, president, GreenCircle Certified. His company is a third-party certification organization that evaluated the GAF process for closed-loop certification, which is a rarity in roofing. The rigorous certification process is still ongoing but should be complete this year, he said.

“This innovation has the potential to reduce a significant waste stream in the U.S. and represents an important advance within the roofing industry,” he said. “Through the recovery of valuable end-of-life roofing materials, GAF is setting the course to reduce environmental impacts across the shingle product life cycle and provide a truly circular, sustainable solution for roofing products.”

That’s exactly what Schnepper said he’s hoping for.

“We do see this innovation really having global implications as well, circularity around the roofing supply chain. So the potential impact of this project clearly makes it the most significant sustainable initiative that GAF’s undertaken,” he said.