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Posted by Jason Bush No Comments on The Environmental Cost of Asphalt Shingles Metal Roofing

The Environmental Cost of Asphalt Shingles

hail ball in a hand
Hail From June Storm

Asphalt Shingles Cons

Recently, Indianapolis television station WTHR13 published an exposé on the local roofing industry and the failure to recycle millions of pounds of shingles, despite often making promises to the contrary. The powerful spring and summer storms, bringing large hail and winds, resulting in over $500 million in roofing damages in Indiana1. Replacing these damaged roofs has resulting in tens of millions of pounds of shingle waste, which could be recycled, but due to a variety of factors, are instead being diverted to Indiana landfills. 

The environmental impact of putting these shingles into landfills cannot be overstated. Industry experts estimate that asphalt shingles take between 300-400 years to fully decompose. Shingles are dense and take up a lot of room, resulted in loss of space for other types of waste. They also can leech chemicals into ground water supplies that can be carcinogenic. The Metal Roofing Alliance estimates that 20 BILLION pounds of asphalt shingles are dumped in US landfills every year2.

Asphalt shingles clogging up an Indiana landfill
From WTHR Article

An Unkept Promise

As the WTHR investigation revealed, roofing manufacturers, such as Owens Corning, offset criticisms of the environmental impact of their shingle products by pledging to customers that their partner contractors will recycle their old shingles and won’t use landfills. However, that is obviously not the case, as their investigation showed. They found there is not a single active shingle recycler in central or northern Indiana. This has changed in recent years, due to a variety of factors listed in their article. However, the bottom line remains: if you replace your shingle roof, they are headed to a landfill.

The Broken Shingle Model

Shingle roof with hail damage marked with circles
Hail Damage on a Shingle Roof

The United States is unique in the world for using asphalt shingles as the predominant roofing type, with the rest of the world using metal, tile, slate, wood shingles, and other durable materials to protect their dwellings. Believe it or not, even the thin tin roofs in the slums of South America have a longer average service life than do American shingles! While they are quick and cheap to install, asphalt shingles are easily damaged by wind and hail, degrade in the UV light of the sun, must be installed in proper weather conditions, and last on average 12 to 15 years in the Midwest3. Instead of installing roofs with 30, 40, or even a 100 years of service life, most Americans go through the regular cycle of shingle replacement, continuing to add to landfill piles.

The Metal Roofing Solution

Metal tile roof in red drone picture
Cornett Roofing Metal Tile Roof

The answer to this asphalt shingle disposal problem involves a two-fold solution. For starters, the need to re-start the recycling centers for shingles in Indiana is paramount. Innovation in both shingle components and in the making of road asphalt will increase demand for these products. But ultimately, the long-term answer is to move away from asphalt shingles to longer lasting, more sustainable roofing systems. 

Metal roofing provides the best alternative to asphalt shingles, particularly in the Midwest climate. Unlike slate and tile, metal roofing does not require the enhanced structural strength to support the heavy weight of those systems, which most U.S. buildings are not prepared for. In addition, metal roofing is far cheaper than slate, tile, or wood shake roofing systems, while still providing 50+ years of useful service life. Metal roofing is 100% recyclable and environmentally friendly. Finally, some metal roofing systems can be installed on wooden batten bars ABOVE the existing shingle roof, eliminating the need to tear of the shingles in the first place, saving money and landfill space.

Metal Shake roof panels on residential home


As the WTHR investigation showed, Indiana will be dealing with the effects of millions of pounds of discarded asphalt shingles for centuries yet to come. But by moving to more environmentally healthy roofing products, such as metal, we can escape the shingle replacement model that has become the norm. Metal roofing offers an affordable alternative to asphalt shingles that not only helps protect our environment, but provides 2 to 3 times the service life, energy savings, and maximum protection against wind and hail. As the fastest growing segment of the roofing market, metal roofing is the future, but even the best roof won’t survive until our landfills are free of the shingles we place there today. 


1 WTHR “

2 Metal Roofing Alliance “

3 Metal Roofing Alliance “