A Closer Look E-mail the author

Ideal Recycling
Chris Edwards • 248-396-2240
Chris Edwards and Todd Foster

Ideal Recycling, an asphalt shingle recycling operation in Michigan, was formed in 2006 by partners Chris Edwards and Todd Foster, but dealing with state regulations delayed the opening of the recycling facility until June of 2008.

Edwards explained, “They looked at it as solid waste. It was considered garbage.” That definition meant that the material had to be handled differently than something that was classified as recyclable. Finally, the shingles were classified as “site source separated material” which cleared the way for the recycling to begin.

While Ideal is the first asphalt shingle recycler in Michigan, Edwards said that there are similar companies in 13 or 14 other states, and when he and Foster were researching the process of recycling shingles, they got a lot of help from one company in Maine who is in the business. Even government officials in Maine helped – the head of environmental quality for the state agreed to talk with counterparts in Michigan.

Today, Ideal is taking in shingles from about a half-dozen local roofing companies. Edwards said that while Ideal charges the roofers, “it’s cheaper for them than landfills.” Another benefit is that homeowners may prefer a contractor who recycles over one that hauls everything to a landfill.

When the shingles come in to Ideal, employees sort out the tar paper and other debris, and the shingles are ground. Right now, all the material is manually sorted, but Edwards would like to find a way to streamline the process in the future. Nails are removed after grinding, and the ground shingle material is sold for use in commercial parking lots.

Edwards said that other markets are possible, including use in roadway material, cold-patch, a road de-icer, and as dust control on unpaved roads. But for now, state regulations limit the use of the material. He also said that asphalt shingle material burns cleaner than coal and produces more BTUs. “It’s a slow process,” Edwards said of working on changing regulations, but “it’s been done in other states.”

Edwards said that the east coast is ahead of Michigan in terms of recycling, because in Michigan “it’s cheaper for the consumer to throw it away.” But a tour of some landfills convinced Edwards that there was too much being discarded that could be recycled. “There’s not a lot that you throw away that can’t be recycled.”

He also said that education is key. People have a negative opinion of asphalt shingles that is hard to change. “We’re fighting opinion instead of fact.” But he admitted that before he got into the business, he was less interested in recycling than he is now. “It’s exciting to me now,” he said.

However, it’s been a challenge to get some of the contractors to understand that the shingles aren’t garbage anymore, and need to be kept separate at the job-site. “We have to recycle 90 percent of what comes into our yard,” Edwards explained. So if there’s too much trash mixed with the shingles, it has to go to a landfill rather than be sorted and recycled. “When we deal directly with the roofers, the loads are cleaner,” he said.

Homeowners also play a role. Edwards said that homeowners sometimes call him to say that they want their shingles recycled, and he would like to see more of that attitude in the future. However, when a dumpster appears in a neighborhood “the whole neighborhood thinks it a trash dumpster” and the loads can be contaminated, even if the homeowner and the roofer have good intentions.

Before founding Ideal, Edwards worked in the automotive industry for 11 years, but ended up moving from job to job as shops closed up. “Todd was a waste hauler,” Edwards said of his business partner. Foster had owned his own waste hauling company, then sold it and worked for someone else, but found that he liked being his own boss.

Looking to the future, Edwards said, “we hope to become a full C&D recycler.”