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At the end of 2019, the new European Commission, led by President Ursula von der Leyen, established the most ambitious objectives of European history in terms of sustainability and circular economy, through a series of related documents, such as The European Green Deal or the Circular Economy Action Plan. In these documents, it is stated that in order to fulfil this ambition, the EU needs to accelerate the transition towards a regenerative growth model that gives back to the planet more than it takes, advance towards keeping its resource consumption within planetary boundaries, and therefore strive to reduce its consumption footprint and double its circular material use rate in the coming decade.
Asphalt industry leading the way
In this context, and taking into account that more than 90% of European roads are surfaced with asphalt, the European asphalt industry has the potential to become a key tool in such a process and is already active in various fields to target a climate-neutral future.
The asphalt industry has been working towards reduction of production emissions for many years, by developing cleaner technologies, such as plants running on alternative and bio-fuels and notably through reduced-temperature asphalts (e.g. Warm and Cold Mix Asphalt). Using such processes and materials also promotes a healthier working environment for our workforce.
Nevertheless, probably the greatest impact can be achieved by re-using and recycling reclaimed asphalt from existing roads to build and maintain new roads. The 100% re-usability and recyclability of asphalt has made it a highly re-used road construction material in the world, and it has already been demonstrated possible to build certain types of roads with 100% of only reclaimed material.
According to the latest production figures published by EAPA, the amount of available reclaimed asphalt in Europe was 49,5 Mt. Out of this amount, asphalt industry re-used 76% in the manufacturing of new asphalt mixes and recycled 20% extra as a granular material for unbound road layers and other civil Engineering applications. As a result, only 4% was put to landfill!
These figures prove that asphalt has become a critical tool of Road Authorities to meet sustainability principles of the Circular Economy Action Plan, such as:
- improving product durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability, addressing the presence of hazardous chemicals in products, and increasing their energy and resource efficiency
- increasing re-used and recycled content in products, while ensuring their performance and safety
- enabling remanufacturing and high-quality recycling
- reducing carbon and environmental footprints
- restricting single-use and countering premature obsolescence
Asphalt industry continues to work to ensure that, when technically and economically viable, the re-use of existing road materials should always be a first option and the recycling the second. Hence, the disposal of old material in a landfill should never be consider an option. Unfortunately, historical misconceptions of “new” is better than “re-used” and the misguided application of regulations (e.g. end-of-waste criteria) can still hamper their greater re-use.
For these reasons, it is an EAPA policy to encourage and support National and Regional Road Authorities to stimulate demand for the use of sustainable solutions, which optimise the criteria of sustainability, circular economy and quality. Further, to set up regulatory plans, which encourage and facilitate the re-use of materials coming from existing pavements to build and maintain new and other existing roads.
All the information available on our website
Do you want to know more about policies across Europe affecting asphalt re-use and recycling, the best technologies available or the impact of the use of reclaimed asphalt in the LCA of new pavements? Find all this information and more in the related documents published by EAPA: