Increasing the Use of Recycled Materials through Improved Risk Analysis and Decision Making Tools for Evaluating the Beneficial Use of Materials and through Educating DOT Staff about Benefits

Focus Area

Waste Management/Recycling/Brownfields


Environmental Process, Natural Resources







Research Idea Scope

TERI Database Administrator Notes:  Note recommended at present time by 2009 Environmental Process Subcommittee. 

There is growing interest in using recycled materials, industrial byproduct materials and reclaimed soil in highway transportation projects.  However, the procedures for evaluating the risks associated with the use of these materials varies from state to state, even though different regions of the country use similar materials and have similar issues.  In addition, the ability to quantify the overall cost-benefits of products (beyond initial purchase and construction costs) is difficult because of the lack of suitable user-friendly support tools. This quantification is needed to justify the use of products or technologies to decision-makers and management.

Another challenge to the widespread use of recycled materials is the general perception is that transportation projects constructed with recycled materials are unsafe and hazardous to human health and the environment and should not be used in place of virgin materials. This attitude makes it very difficult to get project approval and public acceptance for using these perceived contaminated materials in transportation projects. To address these challenges, a two-part research agenda is needed.
Part 1: Develop Evaluation Tools
A user-friendly, easily accessible computer model that allows rapid assessment of options to determine the most cost-effective environmental solutions for design, implementation, maintenance, or reuse of products or technologies is needed.

Phase I: Identify Analysis Models
Identify cost-analysis and economic models that may perform the required basic modeling functions. Assess the ability of each model to accept a variety of inputs, undertake meaningful comparisons, perform a variety of financial analyses, and provide quantitative outputs useful for rational decision making. Determine features that may be suitable for incorporation into model development.

Phase II: Model Development and Design
Using information obtained in the first phase of the study, develop and design a web-based model that can be updated and customized for specific applications, yet is able to accommodate changes to input parameters and outputs. Above all, the model needs to offer the flexibility of being usable by individuals at all levels, thereby allowing choices of the level of analysis and types of outputs. The model should incorporate the following parameters:  Initial costs; Operation and maintenance costs; Disposal costs; Replacement costs; Annual depreciation costs;  Cost of money (i.e., inflation rate);  Time period (i.e., life expectancy); Sensitivity analysis.

This phase should also include verification testing of a beta version by selected experts followed by pilot testing of the web-based model using real data remotely accessed by the enduser.

Phase III: Model Enhancement
This phase would require further significant development to produce an enhanced model that has the ability to analyze real life-cycle costs and benefits in areas such as: Productivity; Health; Emissions reductions; Air quality improvements; Materials and resources;  Energy consumption.

The end-users of the model will be transportation and environmental sectors and stakeholders.
Part 2: Identify and Overcome Misconceptions among Transportation Stakeholders about the Use of Recycled Materials
Research will be conducted to identify the level of knowledge and areas of misunderstanding among transportation stakeholders concerning the use of recycled materials in transportation projects. Research will include a review of current proactive recycling promotional programs that may be used to further educate transportation stakeholders. For public awareness, additional
education programs should be developed to eliminate the misunderstandings over the use of recycled materials in the transportation sector.
The research will be conducted according to the following:
  1. Develop and conduct a survey of engineering design professionals to identify barriers to the use of recycled materials in transportation projects.
  2. Develop and conduct a survey of public stakeholders to identify their perceived negative connotations of the use of recycled material.
  3. Review current proactive recycling promotional and educational programs to use in the development of a model public awareness program.
  4. Summarize findings from surveys and develop a broad-based public awareness and education campaign to demonstrate the benefits of recycled material use.

Identify and partner with appropriate local, state, and federal resource agencies or trade organizations to develop and implement a pilot project. Disseminate results of the pilot program to appropriate stakeholders.

Suggested By

Recycled Materials Resource Center - University of New Hampshire Research Statements (2006) Transportation Research Board 2002 Environmental Research Needs Conference Notes

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