How Environmentally Sustainable is Asphalt?

If you are maintaining a lot, you might wonder about the environmental impact of all that asphalt.

Asphalt is not something people tend to think of in the same breath as "sustainability," so it's worth taking a look at the actual impact, what you can do to reduce it, and some best practices to keep your lot sustainable.

Copy of (99 Tons) Kinbe Mgmt. Inc.; Pacific Motel; Harbor City (21-409) FL (2)

(Pacific Hotel, Harbor City)

How Does Asphalt's Impact on the Environment Compare to Concrete?

Typically, you have two choices for the lot surface (unless you decide to go with one of the stranger options such as a permeable grass lot): Asphalt and concrete.

Here are some things to consider that will help you understand the differences:

  1. Albedo. A major advantage of concrete is that it is lighter in color. This means it reflects more sunlight into the air, potentially reducing the heat island effect. However, it can also reflect sunlight into nearby buildings, potentially increasing their temperature and thus the amount of energy needed to cool them. Thus, depending on the location, concrete is sometimes better.
  2. Energy consumption in creation. Here, asphalt wins hands down. It takes a lot more energy to create concrete than asphalt, due to the very high temperatures involved. Concrete produces a lot more in the way of emissions, and the asphalt industry has worked hard to get total emissions down...by 97 percent between 1970 and 1999.
  3. Recycling. Asphalt is literally the most recycled material in America.
  4. When properly maintained, asphalt lasts forever and never has to be completely taken down and rebuilt.
  5. Because it takes a lot less time to lay asphalt, you will not have to reduce parking spaces for as long. This means less fuel spent when people circle to find a space.

Studies have shown that the small amount of energy potentially saved by concrete's higher albedo is more than overcome by the energy savings in construction costs and longevity. While there might be some situations in which lighter-colored concrete is better, they are in a minority, and we can help you determine if this is true for your specific project.

Is Asphalt Recycled?

 As mentioned, asphalt is recycled a lot. Asphalt that is removed from a job site can be 100% recycled into new asphalt, and this can also be made out of asphalt shingles and other materials.

Even better, recycled asphalt is often better than virgin asphalt. Because the recycling process involves added mineral fillers and organic fibers, the pavement becomes less likely to crack and rut. Recycled asphalt thus lasts longer and creates a great looking lot that needs fewer repairs over time.

Asphalt can be recycled multiple times, with a relatively low cost in energy and time. Talk to your paving contractor and make sure that they use as much recycled asphalt as possible. It's better for the environment and saves you money. Concrete, on the other hand, is less often recycled, although it can be.

Why is Concrete So Bad for the Environment?

Concrete is very bad for the environment. In fact, producing concrete accounts for 4 to 8% of our CO2 emissions and almost a 10th of our industrial water use. Concrete also produces dust that can create and aggravate respiratory diseases. Concrete is extremely durable and does not break down over time. (The Coliseum is a concrete building). Most of this pollution is caused by the need to heat limestone, clay, and other materials in a very high temperature kiln to create cement, which is then mixed with aggregate and a lot of water.

Now, concrete can be recycled and used to create subbase material, new concrete, and, yes, asphalt. More environmentally friendly concrete mixes are in the works.

But if you are laying a new parking lot, you should consider asphalt over concrete because of the environmental concerns.

Should I Replace my Concrete Lot?

If you already have a concrete lot, then it is better to maintain it than rip it out and replace it. Although concrete can be recycled, a lot is not recycled efficiently.

Instead, maintain your concrete lot properly. Repair any cracks and ruts in it promptly and get it inspected regularly. If maintained properly, your concrete lot should last as long as you need it to last. If you do have to replace it, that is the time to consider whether replacing it with concrete or switching to asphalt will be best for your budget and your carbon footprint. In all cases, it's always better to repair and maintain and avoid the cost of replacing.

Can I Reuse Asphalt?

Yes, you can. The "base layers" of your asphalt parking lot can stay in place and be consistently reused, while the top layer is replaced with recycled asphalt. It's best to grind down the asphalt so your lot surface doesn't creep higher and higher over time.

One way to refresh your lot is to grind down the base layer and then pave it over with a new layer of hot mix asphalt. This is done using a kind of glue that fuses the two layers together. This basically means you don't have to remove and replace the asphalt.

Removed asphalt can be taken away and used on another project by your contractor, and the asphalt they use is likely recycled from another customer.

All asphalt can be recycled and reused multiple times. This makes it a lot cheaper to handle and ideally, your lot becomes a permanent feature. Regular maintenance means you only have to patch the asphalt in areas where it has become worn. Good repair will be done in a way that helps support sustainability and ensure that as much asphalt as possible is reused or recycled.

Whether you are looking for repairs or maintenance for your existing concrete or asphalt lot, or trying to decide on your best option for a full remove and replace or a new lot, contact Empire Parking Lot Services. We can do all of your repairs, regardless of what your lot is surfaced with, so talk to us to learn more or get a free estimate.

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