Choose recycled roofing materials
Bet you never thought you’d be carpeting your roof! With multiple recycled content shingle products covering rooftops nationwide—think plastic milk jugs, soda cans, and old shaggy rugs—we’ll be running out of trash in no time! Well, maybe not, but these options may begin to make a dent.
How to choose recycled roofing materials
There are a number of recycled content offerings for roofing materials. Depending on your climate and the look you’re after, one of these should fit your needs.
- Milk jug roof?: Recycled plastic shingles, a wood-like product that’s constructed using some amount of recycled plastic from waste bags, jugs, and bottles, can be used as a substitute for wood and metal shingles. This material is resistant to bacteria, insects, moisture, and chemicals, can be formed into many shapes and is virtually maintenance- and splinter-free. This product reduces the need to harvest new metals or wood for shingles and keeps useful materials out of landfills. In addition to shingles, roofing accessories can be made from recycled plastic.
- Magic carpet shingles: Much like milk jug shingles, roofing made from recycled carpet is lightweight and looks suspiciously like wood. Used carpet is separated into its components and made into products such as shingles, as well as things like auto parts, carpet pads, plastic lumber, sound barriers, landscape timbers, nylon pallets, and parking stops.
- Hit the roof, Jack!: Shingles made from recycled tires look like the real thing, but are generally much lighter. They can withstand stiff winds, carry a Class A fire rating, and are great insulators. Underlayment can also be made from recycled tires so watch out for those options, too.
- If you like the plink, plink of rain…: Recycled metal roofing that’s made from aluminum and steel are great green choices. They’re extremely durable and long lasting, lightweight, and are recyclable after their lifetime is up. These shingles can have a metallic profile or can be disguised to look more like wood shingles.
- Reclaimed wood, too: Of course, reclaimed wood can be used to make flooring and furniture, but did you know that it also can be reformed into shakes, or wooden shingles made from split logs? A great solution for those wishing a more earthy home appearance.
Keep the following thoughts in the back of your mind as you consider which recycled-content roofing option you’ll choose:
- Upfront isn’t everything: When considering new roofing, remember that initial roofing costs aren’t the only thing you’ll pay for. Though 15-year asphalt may seem like a steal, if you factor in energy inefficiencies and multiple replacements (meaning more disposal waste and greater need for raw materials), it’s not as cheap as it seems. A higher-priced, but longer lasting, efficient roofing system is kinder to your pocketbook and the planet over the long haul.
- Check first, then replace: Be sure that your roof needs replacing before doling out the cash for an entirely new system. Sometimes an inexpensive repair will fix the leak or seal energy-wasting joints.
- The whole nine yards: Consider the whole roofing system when thinking about an environmentally-friendly home remodel. Products you may need to replace include sheathing, underlayment, flashing, shingles, gutters, and downspouts.
- Rain collection: If you’re going for recycled tires or treated wood, be sure to check whether these materials will affect the quality of rainwater collection.
- Special alert!: If your old roof was installed between 1940 and 1975, there is a strong chance that it contains asbestos. To avoid possible health problems associated with this material, it is recommended that you work with a licensed professional to remove asbestos roofing. Call 1-800-USA-ROOF to find one near you.
- Color matters: Keep color in mind when choosing your roofing material, especially if you live in a hot zone. Since dark roofing surfaces absorb more heat (sometimes raising roof temperature by 100°F), they transfer more heat into the building than lighter colored roofs. Smooth, bright white roofing often used in cool roof construction is the lowest temp option for building construction, raising roof temperature by only 15°F compared to 72°F to 90°F for common asphalt shingles.
- Insurance woes: Are you replacing your roof because of hail or wind damage? If you choose to go through your insurance company, you may face some challenges. Insurance companies often default to asphalt for roof replacements. If you want something more eco-friendly, you’ll most likely have to ask, and chances are you’ll have to pay the difference if your green roof choice is more costly than your insurer's preferred choice.
Find it! Recycled content roofing materials
Want to know how much recycled content to look for in your new roof? Check out this US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide to recovered materials content for roofing. Whatever roofing material you choose, just remember to recycle your old stuff when you’re done.
Choose your wood species with this company and get LEED points, too! The reclaimed wood shakes (wooden shingles made from split logs) are either hand-split or re-sawn, so you can also pick the style you’d like.
Don’t use wood lath (a thin, foundational strip of wood used before applying some shingles), choose this recycled version of the product instead! Made from Bedford Technology’s own manufacturing waste, this post-consumer product is used to secure roofing felt and building wraps.
With a rugged, wood shake appearance, these metal shingles are both durable and beautiful. The’re made using 98 percent post-consumer recycled metals and come in a variety of colors. They’re also backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
These roofing tiles are manufactured using Starloy, a proprietary polymer made from 100 percent recycled post-industrial rubber and plastic. They look and feel like slate shingles, yet they are incredibly lightweight and much less expensive.
This maintenance-free roofing is durable (you can walk on it, and it’s hail resistant), is made from 95 percent recycled material (including post-industrial plastics, fiber, and crumb rubber from tires), and comes with a 50-year warranty. Its cedar roof appearance comes in a variety of different profiles and is mold, mildew, and insect resistant, too.
Got a flat roof? Use these pads for a safe, stable walkway to access roof structures like air conditioning and greenery. Made from recycled plastic, they’re a great way to cut back on your construction waste.
Made from 100 percent post-consumer carpet, this slate roofing alternative is lightweight, mold- and bacteria-resistant, as well as durable. It comes with a 50-year warranty and is made without generating any waste.
Shake-like shingles made from 100 percent recycled vinyl and cellulose fibers. Suitable for all climates, these lightweight shingles can be purchased directly from this manufacturer or through a roofing distributor in your area.
Before you buy
If you live in an old, historic neighborhood, your home may be subject to regulations and bylaws restricting what type of roofing you use. Check with the local community association before beginning your green re-roof project to be sure you remain within the specifications.
Choosing recycled-content roofing materials helps you go green because…
- Anything composed of recycled materials keeps useful ingredients from wasting away in landfills.
- Making products from recycled materials generally requires less energy and water.
- Fewer new materials are required to make products using recycled content, preserving forests and other wild spaces.
The EPA estimates that over 136 million tons of building-related trash from construction and demolition projects are sent to landfills every year, amounting to 2.8 pounds per person per day. Of this material, between 1 percent and 10 percent are asphalt roofing materials.
Landfill space and virgin resources are conserved, and jobs created when consumers choose products made from recycled materials. These eco-friendly options also consume up to 95 percent less energy than materials made from virgin materials and promote a significant reduction in water usage and air pollution created.
Carpet is receiving new life by being recycled into a variety of products, including roofing shingles.  The amount of carpet sent to the landfill each year—5.2 billion pounds—could cover an area greater than New York City. Carpet is bulky and heavy, taking up considerable landfill space. This concern over landfill capacity led to the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding for Carpet Stewardship (MOU) signed by various local, state, and federal government agencies; carpet manufacturers; and others. This agreement established a 10-year goal to increase the amount of post-consumer carpet that is reused and recycled. The voluntary agreement encourages manufacturers to assume responsibility for a carpet’s lifecycle—from sale to disposal. CARE is the third-party organization tasked to achieve the goal of diverting 40 percent of carpet from landfills by 2012.
Reusing tires for roofing materials involves heating and then molding used tires into shingles. Approximately 290 million scrap tires were generated in 2003. There are markets for about 80 percent of the scrap tires generated annually. Approximately 20 percent are recycled or used in civil engineering projects, 12 percent are ground up and used in asphalt for roads and tracks, and about 3 percent are exported. That leaves about 27 million tires, which end up in landfills or monofills each year. The remainder are stockpiled pending future use or disposal.
Used tires stored as waste or waiting for reuse pose substantial environmental challenges due to the risk of fire and possible leaching of chemicals into the soil. Although major tire fires occur infrequently, the environmental impact can be massive. For example, a tire fire in Rhinehart, Virginia in 1983, which involved 7 million tires, burned for nine months, created a plume of smoke 3,000 feet high and nearly 50 miles long, deposited emissions in three states, and contaminated nearby water sources with lead and arsenic. Used tires are also a breeding ground for mosquitoes because of the stagnant water that collects in them.
Recycled plastic roofing materials can be made from post-consumer milk jugs and other plastics mixed with materials such as glass, lumber, peanut shells, steel, and concrete. Plastic bottles are not biodegradable. When they end up as trash in landfills, they stay there for up to 700 years before beginning to decompose. Recycling plastic bottles reduces the amount of trash clogging landfills, and limits the environment's exposure to chemical contaminants from products like soap, hair dye, and cleaning products that can seep into the soil and contaminate ecosystems. Recycling plastics also saves energy. One recycled plastic bottle conserves enough energy to power a light bulb for up to three hours.
Shingles can also be constructed using recycled aluminum and steel. Recycling aluminum instead of mining and processing virgin ore results in energy savings of up to 95 percent, recycling plastics can reduce energy consumption by 70 percent, and recycling paper products results in energy savings of 40 percent. Steel can be recycled again and again from pre- and post-consumer sources (cans, appliances, cars, and construction materials). In fact, essentially all steel products produced today contain some percentage of recycled steel. Every year, the steel recycling industry saves enough energy to power 18 million homes, and new natural resources are conserved, including 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone for every one ton of steel.
In 2003, the US generated nearly 6 million tons of wood waste that went to landfills. Using recycled wood also reduces the need to harvest trees from the world’s forests. For example, salvaging 1 million board feet of reusable lumber from an old warehouse can offset the need to harvest 1,000 acres of forest. The harvest of trees negatively impacts the earth’s biodiversity when habitat is destroyed and affects its ability to absorb greenhouse gases. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and "exhale," or release, oxygen. It's estimated that an acre of trees can grow 4,000 pounds of wood per year while consuming 5,800 pounds of carbon dioxide and producing 4,280 pounds of oxygen.
- National Roofing Contractors Association
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Remodeler’s Field Guide
- Heat Island Group - Cool Roofs
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - Cool Roofing Materials Database: How to use the Cool Roofing Materials Database
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Construction & Demolition (C$D) Materials: Basic Information
- St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, Inc. - DR3 Mattress Recycling
- Environmental Design + Construction - CARE Facilitates Cost-Effective And Efficient Recycling And Re-Use Of Carpet
- Green Seal - Green Report: Carpet page 1
- Carpet America Recovery Effort - 2006 CARE Annual Report page 9
- Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance - A National Agreement on Carpet Recycling
- Roof 101 - The Rubber Shingles Alternative
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Management of Scrap Tires
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Management of Scrap Tires: Basic Information
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Management of Scrap Tires: Tire Fires
- California Integrated Waste Management Board - Recycled Plastic Lumber
- SKS Bottle & Packaging Inc - Recycle Plastic Containers: Plastic Container Recycling Facts and Figures
- Alive.com - Hair to Dye For
- Recycling-Guide.org - Recycling facts and figures
- The Economist - The truth about recycling
- Steel Recycling Institute - Buy Recycled
- Steel Recycling Institute - Buy Recycled with Recyclable Steel
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Basic Information About Wood Waste
- Rainforest Alliance - SmartWood: Rediscovered Wood Program Description
- American Forest and Paper Association - Benefits of Wood Use