MARCH 2008

Tracking use of recycled base rock in California

Last September California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 735, a bill that would have required the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to track the amount of the recycled road building materials mixed into base rock when new highways are built.

In a letter to the Senate explaining his action, Governor Schwarzenegger wrote:

“I am returning Senate Bill 735 without my signature. While I support the intent of this bill to encourage use of recycled materials, I do not believe the requirements in this bill would be a prudent use of scarce transportation funds.

Recycled concrete aggregate piled at the Lafrate Crushing Plant in Taylor, Michigan.

“Caltrans already has policies and procedures in place to promote the use of recycled material whenever and wherever it is cost effective to do so,” he wrote. “Caltrans’ Standard Specifications enable contractors to use up to 100 percent recycled aggregate in projects provided it meets performance specifications. Since recycled materials generally are less costly, contractors have a strong incentive to use as much recycled material possible under the state’s competitive bidding process.

“I believe it would be wasteful and unnecessary to require Caltrans to establish a tracking system to track use of recycled and virgin material on a project-by-project basis,” he wrote. “These funds would be better utilized by investing in the building of transportation infrastructure.”

This does not satisfy Evan Edgar, the principal civil engineer at Edgar & Associates, Inc., a firm that represents the California Refuse Removal Council.

“Caltrans would have been required to track how much inert recycled baserock was used for the sub-base,” he says. “For three years we have pushed for that legislation. Right now there is a $3 to $5 per ton price difference between virgin base rock and recycled. We are disadvantaged, but yet the big companies with market power buy our stuff at a discount and they blend it in with their stuff to sell it at a premium. They pocket the difference and nobody knows how much is being recycled. Caltrans should track the use of these materials and give parity to the small guys who are making base rock.”

While the governor talks of developing green businesses and green highways, Edgar says that Caltrans opposed the requirement on the basis that it would have required hiring additional personnel to track the materials used in highway construction.

“It’s unfortunate that Caltrans is ‘old school’ and killing the governor’s message,” says Edgar, who stresses that while the recyclers supported the bill, it was opposed by the powerful combination of mining companies, virgin material producers and CalTrans. “We give up on Caltrans,” says Edgar. “There will be no bill this year from our trade association. We beat our heads on the wall.”

The state is facing a budget deficit in 2008; a factor that Edgar says played a role in the governor vetoing the bill. He adds that legislation already requires that recycled material be used in highway construction and that Caltrans “does the right thing in applying the law.”

Currently when highways are torn up, Caltrans has mobile crushers on site to recycle the material, but recyclers also create base rock from other sources.

Five years ago Caltrans changed its regulations to allow the use of 100 percent recycled base rock as long as it met specifications.

“We meet that spec,” says Edgar, who represents about 10 base rock producers. “We do about one million tons easy every year. We make the products to spec, we buy the right equipment and we have feedstock controls – we only accept clean inerts and keep the other stuff out.”

What upsets Edgar and the recycling companies is that old mining sites in the Los Angeles basin are being used as landfills for concrete and that the material is not being recycled into new building materials.

“They bury about one million tons a year in those mines,” he says.

The CMRA worked with Senator Patrica Wiggins’ office to develop this bill, and testified to support it.

“The reason is that while Caltrans does use recycled material, it has no idea how much it uses and whether it could use more,” says CMRA executive director Bill Turley. “While CalTrans says the bill would have been a burden on them, it really only was going to add one more line to a report they have to do anyway. This bill’s requirements would not been a big deal for them to do.”

Another bill the CMRA pushed in the last California legislative session was AB 484, introduced by assemblyman Pedro Nava, a staunch supporter of C&D recycling.

This bill would have prohibited a contractor, under contract with the department, from disposing of asphalt concrete or Portland cement concrete in a solid waste landfill, unless the contractor determines that no other means of using or disposing the material is feasible or the concrete will be used for beneficial reuse in the construction or operation of a solid waste landfill or in inert debris engineered fill activity.

“CalTrans opposed the bill and the governor vetoed it because he said it put an undue reporting requirement on the contractor and the agency,” says Turley, “but it just makes common sense if the state really wanted to improve the use of recycled materials in the highway environment.

“The state is facing a budget crisis,” he adds, “but the use of recycled aggregates, especially as a roadbase product, is usually less expensive than using natural aggregate, often as much as $2 to $5 a ton. That may not sound like much, but on a project requiring 40,000 or 50,000 tons or more, you are talking some real money. And, of course, its engineering characteristics are equal to natural aggregate.”