USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - July/August 2000

Guest Editorial

Editor's Notes

Recycling Makes Sense

Today, it seems as if almost everything can be recycled - from household items, such as glass, tin cans, and plastic bottles, to automobile tires and other car parts, electric appliances, and the bands and brackets used by orthodontists.

For thousands of years, man has been making useful products from old things, from waste materials, and from virtually every part of certain animals and plants. For example, about 2,000 years ago, the Chinese used lime-treated bones to fertilize their soil to improve the growth of crops.

However, in recent times, some environmentalists have been critical of our "consume and throwaway" society. Now, the scarcity of some natural resources, the immense problems of trash and waste disposal, and related economic issues have rekindled our awareness of the need to be innovative and efficient in our use and reuse of available resources and materials.

Here are some interesting facts about trash and recycling (compiled by Draw Enterprises Inc. at

  • In a lifetime, the average American will throw away more than 90,000 pounds (41,000 kilograms) of trash.
  • Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.
  • Annually, enough energy is saved by recycling steel to supply Los Angeles with electricity for almost 10 years.
  • Twenty cans can be made from recycled material using the same amount of energy it takes to make one new can.
  • In this decade, it is estimated that Americans will throw away more than 1 million tons (0.91 million metric tons) of aluminum cans and foil, more than 11 million tons (almost 10 million metric tons) of glass bottles and jars, more than 4.5 million tons (4.1 million metric tons) of office paper, and nearly 10 million tons (9.1 million metric tons) of newspaper. Almost all of this material could be recycled.
  • Incinerating 10,000 tons (9,070 metric tons) of waste creates one job; putting the same amount in a landfill creates six jobs; recycling the same amount creates 36 jobs.

Recycling is good for the environment and the preservation of limited virgin resources. It is also good for the economy. And that is becoming more and more true in the field of highway construction as well.

Five articles in this issue cover various aspects of highway-related recycling: national research projects, operations and research of the Recycled Materials Resource Center to determine additional and better ways to use recycled materials, the cultural benefits of recycling in North Carolina, lessons learned in Texas, and the scanning tour to discover why and how the Europeans are so successful in using recycled materials in highway construction.

These articles update Robing L. Schroeder's comprehensive recycling article,"The Use of Recycled Materials in Highway Construction," which was published in the Autumn 1994 issue of Public Roads. This article can be accessed in the Public Roads archives on the Web site of the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (

Also, the article about geosynthetic reinforced soil structures - while not specifically about recycling - covers the innovative and economical use of readily available materials in highway related construction.

The highway construction industry can effectively use large quantities of diverse materials - including blast furnace and steel slags; carpet fibers; coal ash byproducts, such as fly ash and bottom ash; glass; municipal solid waste combustion ash; recycled plastic; roofing shingle waste; and rubber tires. The use of these materials can relieve a great burden associated with waste product disposal and can potentially save a great deal of money.

Recycling in the highway construction industry just makes good sense!

Bob Bryant