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Partnerships for Sustainability: A New Approach to Highway Material
A Report on the Houston Workshop

Executive Summary


In September 1999, the International Technology Scanning Program conducted a recycled materials technology scanning tour to Denmark, Sweden Germany, the Netherlands, and France in September 1999. This scan jointly sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the Recycled Materials Resource Center (RMRC)[1] at the University of New Hampshire and included support from the U.S. recycling industry. The purpose of the scan was to review and document innovative policies, programs and techniques in Europe and to evaluate their applicability to US practices. This report documents a workshop that was conducted in Houston, TX in October 2000 for the express purpose of exploring ways of implementing scan findings.

The first day of the workshop was dedicated to knowledge sharing. Nearly ninety attendees heard presentations from European and U.S. specialists. On the second and third days, state Departments of Transportation (DOT), FHWA, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, engineers and environmental staffs caucused to 1) find common ground and 2) encourage working together on all aspects of recycled materials use within the highway environment. Attendees include forty-five state DOT materials specialists, state DOT environmental specialists, and state EPA beneficial use specialists, a community that had never formally met in any national or regional setting. In addition, this was the first time that highway officials representing AASHTO had met in a working atmosphere with the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) officials.

Program Overview

All presentations and discussions promoted the theme that recycling gains will only come from improved partnerships and integrated methodologies and approaches. Beneficial use specialists, along with producers of solid waste, continue to see the highway facility as a significant sink. They agree that significant recycling gains will only come with early and continuous cooperation. DOT officials agreed, noting their lack of in-depth knowledge and experience with this area of environmental procedures and methodologies.

Key Findings and Recommendations

The Scan Team identified examples of European cooperation among government, the construction industry, and the environmental groups. This cooperation has produced some very positive results. European countries do believe that transportation sustainability is possible and attainable and that sustainability within the highway material program is a specific bur achievable goal as well. They seem more willing to employ targeted taxation as a means to creating incentive. Even though this policy is generally not viable in the U.S., European practices still deserve serious assessment and scrutiny. This should be done by joint working groups with representation from the highway and environmental communities. The official Scan Report is now available and contains many examples of cooperation.

Several European countries have research programs that evaluate the in-service recycled material performance. This approach directly challenges the principle that recycled material must meet virgin material specifications.

Attendees also agreed that U.S. working partnerships must advance at all levels - FHWA and U.S. EPA; AASHTO and ASTSWMO; and state DOTs and EPAs. Under new and more aggressive working relationships, these organizations would show the leadership required that would enhance cooperation, technology sharing, and program streamlining in all levels of government. It was recommended that the above four organizations initiate a more formal working relationship by establishing a Highway Materials Sustainability Joint Committee that includes all the appropriate disciplines, including cities and counties.

Neither FHWA nor AASHTO have clear recycling policies. Both organizations would give a clearer indication of the importance of recycling and sustainability if they did. It was recommended that this topic be pursued by each individual agency and be an early discussion topic for with the Joint Committee recommended previously.

Only five state DOTs are known to have full time recycling coordinators. These states - TX, MA, PA, NC, and CA - have reaped positive benefits from their programs. The coordinator acts as the focal point to connect state DOT, state EPA, solid waste producers, and potential entrepreneurs to promote increased waste material use and to reduce barriers. Other states DOTs are encouraged to establish similar recycled material coordinator positions. State EPAs would also benefit significantly from such a position within their organizations.

Resources for formal technology information sharing are relatively limited. All participants argued for more web-based sharing of experiences, reports, needs, etc. It was recommended the RMRC should play a pivotal role in this area.

Many other significant ideas were generated at the meeting and merit further exploration. They include:

  • Developing a synthesis of DOT recycling material practices, including specifications and test methods
  • Adding more environmental requirements into material specifications
  • Developing a working definition of "sustainability"
  • Developing a long-range research and implementation plan
  • Developing jointly sponsored technology transfer outreach programs, such as demonstration projects, workshops, pamphlets, and training efforts. Some attendees suggested that the legislative branch of all governmental entities should be involved in the type effort as well.

The recommended Joint Committee could include all the above as part of their cooperative efforts.

The RNRC has made contributions towards such a goal but not on a strategic large-scale national level. The proposed sustainability committee would give RMRC work the needed boost to reach out to a much wider community interested in promoting sustainability in highway materials.

The AASHTO Standing Committee on the Environment (SCOE) has limited resources. Most are associated with environmental analysis and permitting associated with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). It was recommended that SCOE members participate actively in such a Joint Committee effort. SCOE representatives, however pro-active they may want to be, need to undertake a serious dialogue on resource availability. Engineering and economic analyses, along with possible development of environmental testing standards, will be difficult to add to an already full agenda.

It was also suggested the material usage and demands, recycling, off-site removal, and other recycling issues be considered in the Environmental Impact Statements. Some also suggested that materials be considered in a systems planning approach. This suggestion is clearly worthy of consideration but within the contexts of SCOE responsibilities and the proposed Joint Committee.

Neither AASHTO nor Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) representatives were familiar with each other's organization or how the other dealt with recycled materials issues. ASTSWMO works on recycled materials and just recently completed a very significant report on the beneficial use of recycled materials. ASTSWMO had little formal contact with highway officials on this work.


Progress in the use of recycled materials has been appreciable in the highway community over the last 20 years. However, future progress is dependent on more cooperation among various disciplines -- industry and government, highway engineers and environmental specialists. While the European experience does allow for incentive or preferential taxation policies, the American experience will have to rely on its ability to form partnerships and alliances. Most in the workshop believe this can happen.

[1] The Recycled Materials Resource Center (RMRC) at the University of New Hampshire is a national center created to promote the wise use of recycled materials (pavements, secondary, waste, and byproduct materials) in the highway environment. The Center is a partnership with the Federal Highway Administration.

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John Bukowski
Office of Asset Management, Pavements, and Construction
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Updated: 02/20/2015

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration