Industrial Materials Reuse and Recycling: Developing local opportunities through a national initiative

Elizabeth Olenbush
Executive Director
Foundry Industry Recycling Starts Today
Mill River, Massachusetts

Why should public works officials care about Industrial Materials Recycling?
Public works agencies are among the largest owners of public infrastructure in the United States. Tens of thousands of miles of public roadways and thousands of utilities, buildings, parks and other public facilities are owned by public works departments. Construction and maintenance of this vast catalogue of public infrastructure consumes millions of tons of materials each year. Thus, public works officials impact the economic and environmental footprints of their communities every day through the selection and use of materials.

A new national program is underway to help cities, counties and towns extend their sustainability programs to be even better stewards of materials and resources. Industrial Materials Recycling (IMR) is a joint initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a number of other partners. Industrial materials are a group of reusable and recyclable materials such as coal fly ash, foundry sand, iron and steel slags, and construction and demolition materials. These materials are high-volume materials that are produced in hundreds of locations throughout the U.S. Using them in public sector construction programs can often provide performance and economic benefits, as well as help the owner agencies achieve their larger sustainability goals.

Many public works agencies are already participating in "Green Government" initiatives, which typically include a range of goals such as saving water and energy, and reducing reliance on extracting additional virgin materials. Industrial Materials Recycling can help to achieve "Green Government" objectives. In most instances, industrial materials provide comparable or superior performance at the same or lower cost than virgin materials.

A push for a more sustainable materials management system is part of the EPA's "Vision for 2020." The EPA is developing a number of non-regulatory public-private partnerships that expand the traditional materials management "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" theme. The EPA developed the Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC) as a national effort to conserve natural resources and energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by managing materials more efficiently. Conservation of energy and preservation of natural resources are achieved through waste reduction, reusing and recycling materials, purchasing recycled products, and reducing toxic chemicals. Increasing the recycling and reuse of industrial materials is one of four national priority areas of the RCC.

Other federal agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have also begun programs focusing on the appropriate use of industrial materials in transportation and land-based applications.

What are Industrial Materials?
Industrial materials are the incidental materials generated by major American industrial sectors which are the backbone of American manufacturing. These sectors produce essential components of the American lifestyle but in doing so they generate reusable or recyclable by-products alongside their primary products.

These sectors of the economy produce more than a half billion tons of materials each year that cannot be reused in their production cycles. By comparison, the amount of material generally counted as part of the municipal solid waste stream is about half that total. Although each of these industry sectors has a substantial focus on reduction, reuse and recycling, there are residual material streams that are created by their activities. The vast majority of those materials are comparable in physical and environmental performance to materials and products that are in the commercial marketplace today.

Why is the EPA interested in expanding Industrial Materials Reuse and Recycling?
The EPA's Office of Solid Waste formed the Resource Conservation Challenge to further the goals articulated in the Agency's "Beyond RCRA: Waste and Materials Management in 2020," a report that addresses the national need to move to the next generation of sustainable resource management strategies. To view the entire report, visit Part of that vision is the diversion of non-hazardous industrial materials that are currently being land-disposed into appropriate applications to achieve a truly sustainable economy.

Non-hazardous materials generated from industrial activities constitute a significant majority of the total amount of "wastes" disposed through landfilling in the United States (see chart). However, many of these materials have physical and chemical properties that are comparable to the virgin materials used in other economic sectors. The U.S. economy can benefit substantially by redirecting industrial materials away from disposal to reuse and recycling in economically and environmentally sustainable ways. The EPA formed the IMR program to develop and implement strategies to achieve the RCC goals for industrial materials recycling. More information on EPA's IMR program can be accessed at

The EPA currently is focusing on increasing the recycling and beneficial use of coal combustion products (CCPs), foundry sand, and construction and demolition (C&D) materials because they are generated in large quantities, are burdensome for disposal, have existing markets, and their recycling rates indicate significant opportunities for improvement. However, the EPA also promotes and supports increasing the reuse and recycling of additional industrial materials through its various partnership programs. Iron and steel slag, scrap tires, and pulp and paper residuals also exist in large volumes and have known market applications.

Partnering with the Industrial Resources Council
Another partner in this effort is the Industrial Resources Council (IRC), an organization comprised of seven industry associations representing the nation's leading manufacturing sectors. The Industrial Resources Council is a collaborative partnership working to develop markets for industrial materials. IRC is comprised of nonprofit industry associations that spearhead their industry's efforts on material reuse. IRC founding members and their industries are:

  • American Coal Ash Association (utilities)
  • Construction Materials Recycling Association (construction & demolition)
  • Foundry Industry Recycling Starts Today (metal casting)
  • National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (pulp and paper)
  • National Slag Association and Slag Cement Association (steel manufacturing)
  • Rubber Manufacturers Association (scrap tires)

The IRC members collectively generate more than 600 million tons per year of materials. All of the target industrial materials are priority materials for EPA, FHWA or both agencies. The IRC is housed as a council under the National Recycling Coalition, in part because most of the industries involved with the IRC are important components in the municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling processes. So recycling and reusing these industrial materials is truly closing the loop on MSW recycling.

How can Industrial Materials be used in public works projects?
As is the case with other materials, each industrial material stream has characteristics which are a good "fit" for certain applications but not necessarily for others. Some of these uses are well-known to engineers; for example, substituting coal fly ash or slag cement for Portland cement improves the performance of the concrete. Others are less well-known, such as better compaction that can result from using foundry sands as subbase or structural fill. The IRC is working with a number of parties, including the federally-funded Recycled Materials Resource Center (RMRC), to assemble technical information and design guidance into accessible formats through a new website under development at

Many of the proven applications for industrial materials are in the construction industry, where these materials are often suitable for local public works projects. (An Industrial Materials Matrix, which contains an "at a glance" view of project types and suitable materials, can be found on both the IRC and RMRC websites, the links of which are provided at the end of this article; the matrix is an evolving document, so engineers are encouraged to contact the appropriate IRC member associations for information on additional uses for locally available materials.) Engineers should consider sourcing locally available industrial materials in the planning, design and building of public works projects. Over the past decade, the EPA has published a series of Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPGs) in the Federal Register. Where procurement activities involve more than $10,000 in federal funds, CPGs should apply. Information on the CPGs can be accessed at Among the CPGs that apply to industrial materials are coal ash and foundry sand in flowable fill; and coal ash, slag cement, and silica fume used in cement and concrete. Also visit for more information about how these industrial materials can be used in cement and concrete.

Using industrial materials in transportation infrastructure is the focus of a joint effort by the FHWA, the EPA and the IRC. The FHWA Recycling Policy indicates that recycled materials should be used in transportation infrastructure whenever feasible. (To read the policy, visit In partnership with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), FHWA and other IMR partners are promoting the use of industrial materials in state highway projects, and are also developing a "Green Highways Partnership" (GHP) program to reduce the broader environmental footprint of transportation projects. The GHP program is currently a pilot effort in EPA's Region III, which includes the states of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. More information on the Green Highways Partnership can be found at

IRC is partnering with the EPA and RMRC to present a session at the upcoming 2008 APWA Congress in New Orleans. The coalition is also working with FHWA's LTAP program and the RMRC to develop training courses for local engineers. The IRC has developed an introductory workshop that it offers in partnership with EPA Regional offices and state Departments of Transportation. APWA chapters interested in training opportunities are encouraged to let the APWA technical liaisons know of their interest.

What is the Construction Initiative?
Public works officials and local engineers play an important role in the design and construction of the built environment. Another EPA-sponsored program to expand the knowledge base about industrial materials is known as "The Construction Initiative" (CI). EPA launched the CI as a collaborative effort among EPA, industry and others to increase the amounts of industrial materials that are recycled or reused in specific building or transportation construction projects across the nation. The CI works through partnerships with individuals who influence the design and construction of building and transportation projects, including real estate owners, developers, general contractors, and federal, state and local officials.

Through the CI, EPA staff members provide ongoing non-regulatory technical assistance to interested parties to help them incorporate recycled industrial materials into their projects. The IRC also provides additional technical and environmental information about the recycling and reuse of industrial materials in CI projects.

One of the activities under the CI is the development of case studies and project examples. The EPA recognizes that APWA members undoubtedly have many good experiences to share with their use of industrial materials in public works projects. The CI offers public recognition for agencies, individuals and companies that are using industrial materials in an exemplary manner in the form of press releases and other recognition efforts. For more information on the CI, visit

Next Steps

  • Industrial materials can be used to meet the material needs and sustainability goals of public works officials.

  • Plan now to attend the Industrial Materials Recycling session at the 2008 APWA Congress!

  • The Industrial Resources Council has developed workshops that can be delivered through APWA chapters.

  • Technical assistance to local governments is being developed by the EPA, FHWA, RMRC and a variety of partners.

  • We're interested in promoting your efforts through the development of case studies.

Where can technical information on the use of Industrial Materials be accessed?
In addition to the hyperlinks described throughout this article, technical information on the use of industrial materials can be obtained from the following sources:

Elizabeth Olenbush can be reached at (413) 229-2466 or