The Environmental Impact of Asphalt: What are the facts?

Roads, driveways, and lots are an integral part of our infrastructure. They connect us to our loved ones and the resources we need all the same. Without a solid road system, a society can’t promote mobility for its members. In this post, we’ll explore several angles of the environmental impact of asphalt in the year 2024.

What cost do these conveniences come at though? Asphalt gets a bad reputation as an environmentally destructive building material, but is that actually the truth?

asphalt recycling

Workers at an asphalt production plant mix asphalt binder with an aggregate of crushed rock, gravel, and sand to start road construction. These mixing facilities are typically the target of environmental concern.

Any asphalt plant is closely monitored by the EPA to make sure emissions stay at a safe level. The “smoke” coming from the smokestacks of asphalt plants is actually filtered steam. This steam is a result of drying aggregate material, and isn’t harmful to the environment. The typical asphalt plant produces emissions comparable to that of 13 residential fireplaces over the course of one year.

The materials that comprise asphalt are often reclaimed asphalt from other projects. Asphalt roadways are a sustainable option because of their closed loop recycling process, making them better than concrete or other materials. Among recycled materials, asphalt is actually the single most recycled material with a 99% recycling rate for reclaimed asphalt.

To recycle asphalt, a chemical is added to the crushed blacktop to reactivate the asphalt binder. From there it can be mixed with new materials to create new material. This process saves millions of tons of new material from being used to create fresh roadways.

After production at the plant, the asphalt is used in paving applications. After it’s been laid, asphalt is inert, meaning it doesn’t leach any chemicals into the environment. Asphalt is made to be waterproof and keep the elements out.

Asphalt Paving Near me, Blacktop paving near me, Asphalt company near me
Asphalt Paving Near me, Blacktop paving near me, Asphalt company near me

Asphalt’s application isn’t limited to the road building and paving sector of our infrastructure. In the early 2010s, students at Rice University in Texas developed a type of asphalt that is incredibly porous.

This porous asphalt can be used to capture carbon dioxide trapped in natural gas that we use to heat our homes. Usually the process of collecting carbon from natural gas is done with a mix of chemicals that capture the carbon and turn it soluble. This poses a problem because these chemical solutions are limited in their capacity to capture carbon. Porous asphalt is entirely reusable, and can capture up to 155% of its weight in carbon before it needs to be discharged and cleaned.  Learn more about this technological breakthrough here.

While asphalt is incredibly environmentally friendly when compared to other paving materials, environmental impact is undeniable when clearing land for roadways, driveways, or parking lots. Roadways cut through landscapes creating dead zones for local wildlife, and very often disrupt the reproduction of local species, especially birds and amphibians.

Birds rely on light signals from the sun to time their mating calls. Robins have been observed singing their mating calls deep into the night because of bright headlights on roadways. Amphibians usually travel a considerable distance to their mating sites. Roads are a dangerous obstacle for these amphibians during their mating march.  

environmental impact of asphalt

Roads and paved surfaces have environmental impacts, but asphalt has the least impact compared to other materials in the big picture. Modernization of humanity has created a massive demand for the mobilization of people as well as commodities. Roads are an unavoidable reality of our society. It is in our best interest to make sure we’re constructing them in the most sustainable way.

Experience the Mid State difference!

With over 100 years of asphalt laying experience between the team, Mid-State Asphalt has the skills and experience to provide you with the best service. Our company culture is centered around solid morals, ethics, and a strong connection to the communities we serve. Choose Mid-State Asphalt for all your asphalt paving needs. We’re certain you’ll be pleased with the results.