Ethylene propylene diene terpolymer, commonly referred to as EPDM, is currently the No. 1 roofing choice of architects, specifiers and contractors for new and replacement roofing projects. But, when these roofs need to be replaced, they frequently go straight into rapidly filling landfills. And, like old tires, EPDM roofs don’t decompose for 10,000 years.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), construction and demolition debris accounts for more than 136 million tons of waste each year, which is 40 percent of the country’s annual total. Of this, commercial and industrial roofing is estimated to account for 4 percent (5.5 million tons), and a significant portion of this is EPDM. The EPA estimates that more than 1 billion square feet (185,000 tons) of EPDM roofing is removed and dumped into landfills every year, which translates into 33,000 40-yard dumpsters.
Because tires can no longer be dumped in some states’ landfills, companies instead are recycling tires to provide black carbon and other minerals for reuse in rubber products. Automotive components, tires, plastics, building and construction materials, and industrial rubber goods—not to mention new commercial and industrial roofing systems—all can use recycled rubber from tires.
Not all EPDM is suitable for recycling, but the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA) projects 113,500 tons per year currently have a beneficial end use with today’s recycling technology and grinding equipment. Even though ERA research indicates it is logistically viable to remove and recycle EPDM from a roof to create other products, very little EPDM currently is being recycled. Benefits of Recycled EPDM
Considering the damage to the environment from EPDM tear-offs and the spiraling cost of EPDM petroleum-based products, there are tremendous advantages to recycling EPDM.
- Environmentally friendly. Using re-cycled EPDM for new products in place of virgin resources offers benefits beyond conserving petroleum. For instance, using systems and products that incorporate recycled EPDM as an ingredient saves the environment from the release of volatile, ozone-depleting or petroleum-based waste. Collection methods for EPDM are simple, and recycled EPDM construction products fit well into the LEED green building rating system.
- Economically viable. Millions of dollars worth of recyclable rubber are dumped into landfills annually. In addition to reducing waste in landfills, recycling can save companies a tremendous amount of money on shipping, handling, managing and disposal. Collecting and processing recycled EPDM costs considerably less than purchasing new materials. For example, EPDM costs about 40 cents per pound as compared to titanium dioxide at $1.50 per pound or black carbon at $3.19 per pound. To encourage recycling of EPDM, Ohio instituted a tire impact fee, charging $1 per tire for wholesale sales. Additionally, rubber mill technology already is capable of production rates that meet market needs at a low cost and, though the production process is not labor intensive, regional grinding mills could provide new jobs.
- Functionally equivalent. EPDM, like tire rubber, contains high contents (about 25 percent) of black carbon, a widely used functional filler for products that can use recycled rubber, such as commercial roofing and other building products, footwear products, tires, epoxies and sealants. EPDM is UV stable and retains its original physical properties. The stability and physical characteristics of EPDM make the logistics of packaging, shipping, handling, production and distribution simple and economical.