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FHWA Recycled Materials Policy

Administrator's Message:

The National Highway System (NHS) is extensive, with over 160,000 miles of highway pavements and over 128,000 structures, built using large quantities of asphalt, concrete, steel, and aggregate, and smaller quantities of nonferrous metals, plastics, and other materials. Much of the system was constructed in the 1960's and 70's and is in need of major rehabilitation or total reconstruction; and much of the materials used to build that system can be recycled for use in the new construction.

In order to carry out the mission of the FHWA, i.e., to "improve the quality of the Nation's highway system," the NHS must be properly preserved, maintained, rehabilitated, and when necessary, reconstructed. Maintenance of highways and associated structures is critical to our ability to provide the safest, most efficient roadway system possible, while simultaneously providing the greatest level of protection to the human and natural environment.

The same materials used to build the original highway system can be re-used to repair, reconstruct, and maintain them. Where appropriate, recycling of aggregates and other highway construction materials makes sound economic, environmental, and engineering sense. The economic benefits from the re-use of nonrenewable highway materials can provide a great boost to the highway industry. Recycling highway construction materials can be a cost-saving measure, freeing funds for additional highway construction, rehabilitation, preservation or maintenance.

Recycling presents environmental opportunities and challenges, which, when appropriately addressed, can maximize the benefits of re-use. The use of most recycled materials poses no threat or danger to the air, soil, or water. Furthermore, careful design, engineering and application of recycled materials can reduce or eliminate the need to search for and extract new, virgin materials from the land.

The engineering feasibility of using recycled materials has been demonstrated in research, field studies, experimental projects and long-term performance testing and analysis. Significant advances in technology over the past decade have increased the types of recycled materials in use and the range of their applications. When appropriately used, recycled materials can effectively and safely reduce cost, save time, offer equal or, in some cases, significant improvement to performance qualities, and provide long-term environmental benefits.

FHWA has established agency goals for enhancing the human and natural environment, increasing mobility, raising productivity, improving safety throughout the highway industry, and preserving national security. All of these goals are stated in our strategic plan, and we will ensure that the FHWA recycling policy and recycling programs are in alignment with those goals and underlying principles. This recycling policy statement is offered to advance the use of recycled materials in highway applications. It is intended to provide leadership, direction, and technical guidance to the transportation community for the use of recycling technology and materials in the highway environment.

The FHWA policy is:

  1. Recycling and reuse can offer engineering, economic and environmental benefits.
  2. Recycled materials should get first consideration in materials selection.
  3. Determination of the use of recycled materials should include an initial review of engineering and environmental suitability.
  4. An assessment of economic benefits should follow in the selection process.
  5. Restrictions that prohibit the use of recycled materials without technical basis should be removed from specifications.

FHWA has a longstanding position that any material used in highway or bridge construction, be it virgin or recycled, shall not adversely affect the performance, safety or the environment of the highway system. This remains a cornerstone in our policy statement. In order to foster innovation and future development we support research, field trials, and project demonstrations showcasing the findings.

We will do this with:


  • The FHWA Recycling Team
  • Creation of a team of champions in our Division Offices that will be points of contact for recycling technology


  • The Recycled Materials Resource Center
  • Working with the AASHTO Subcommittee on Materials and Environment
  • AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways recently passed a resolution on "Use of Recycled Materials". That document requests the establishment of a joint task force be created to provide the overall leadership for a coordinated national recycling program.
  • Coordination with State highway agency (SHA) Recycling Coordinators and state solid waste management regulators
  • Interaction and coordination with industry partners
  • Taking the lead for coordination of recycling activities and initiatives

Promotion and Support:

  • Agency emphasis on recycling technology in the FHWA Strategic Plan
  • Research, development, and technology transfer programs to further innovation
  • Demonstration projects
  • Increased training opportunities for FHWA and SHA staff
  • Active promotion of recycling technology by providing needed specifications, best practices, design guidance, and material testing results to overcome barriers
  • Assistance in review, evaluation, and advancement of emerging technology
  • Promoting the concept of "sustainable" construction, i.e., construction designed for later recycling
  Signature: Frederick G. Wright, Jr.
Frederick G. Wright, Jr.
Executive Director
Updated: 09/08/2015
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000