Nearly every industrial process, from manufacturing consumer goods to generating energy, produces different types of by-products, many of which are usable materials. Similar to municipal solid wastes, such as cardboard, newspapers, and beverage containers, these industrial materials are also valuable commodities that can be recycled.
The beneficial use of industrial materials is a key part of EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) effort. Through an SMM approach, the EPA is helping change the way our society protects the environment and conserves resources for future generations.
Building on the familiar concept of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, SMM is a systems approach that seeks to reduce materials use and their associated environmental impacts over their entire life cycle, starting with extraction of natural resources and product design and ending with decisions on recycling or final disposal. This approach helps to identify waste materials, such as industrial materials as commodities that can be utilized to grow key industries and associated jobs. As a commodity product, these materials will help the U.S. from draining virgin resources, including fossils fuels, minerals and precious metals.
An Overview of the Recycling Process
Industrial materials recycling, also referred to as beneficial use, means reusing or recycling byproduct materials generated from industrial processes in an environmentally responsible manner. Thousands of manufacturing and industrial processes and electric utility generators create hundreds of millions of tons of nonhazardous industrial materials that are often wasted. These materials can often be used as substitutes for raw materials in the manufacture of consumer products, roads, bridges, buildings, and other construction projects.
Nonhazardous industrial materials, such as coal ash, foundry sand, construction and demolition materials, slags, and gypsum, are valuable by-products of industrial processes. Each material may be recycled or reused in a variety of diverse applications. These materials have many of the same chemical and physical properties as the virgin materials they replace — they can even improve the quality of a product. For example, the use of coal fly ash can enhance the strength and durability of concrete. Putting these commodities into productive use saves resources and energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and contributes to a sustainable future.
Industrial materials recycling
- Preserves our natural resources by decreasing the demand for virgin materials;
- Conserves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions through decreasing the demand for products made from energy intensive manufacturing processes; and
- Saves money by decreasing disposal costs for the generator and decreasing materials costs for end users.
Examples of practical recycling applications
- Concrete and asphalt crushed and used as an aggregate in pavements or as structural fill;
- Coal fly ash, slag, and spent foundry sand recycled in concrete, road embankments, and flowable fill
- Coal ash used in the manufacture of cement and ceiling tiles; and
- Flue gas desulfurization gypsum, foundry sand, and pulp and paper byproducts used in manufactured soil and agricultural amendments.