Roof shingle recycling: A Florida roofing contractor finds grinding to be the perfect solution to an unusual problem

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Material grinding and/or recycling is generally viewed as an area one chooses with a long-range commitment in mind. A potentially substantial capital investment, coupled with issues such as training of personnel, market research/development, and so on, often drives the need to make the business a full-time endeavor.

However, for one southwest Florida contractor, grinding is offering a short-term solution to a number of challenging problems. Once he has these issues remedied, he is quick to say that he will bid a fond adieu to the grinding business - but not without acknowledging that his foray into that area proved an effective remedy for a potentially serious headache.

Lee Crowther Sr. has seen his roofing company, Crowther Roofing and Sheet Metal of Florida, grow from a startup in 1959 to one of the top 50 roofing contractors in the world. That growth led to the firm's most recent need for expansion of its Ft. Myers, Florida offices and its equipment storage/maintenance site.

Crowther says it was purely coincidental that he is even grinding material today but notes that doing so will benefit his company in the long run.

'We had been considering expanding our operation, which, because we had reached capacity here, would have meant the purchase of a new site, construction and relocation costs and so on,' he says. 'I was approached a while back by the owner of the property adjacent to out yard. He was looking to sell his property and asked if I'd be interested in it. 'Purely coincidence, he was operating an asphalt dump,' Crowther says, 'and I'm in the roofing business, which also generates a great deal of scrap asphalt.'

At the time the adjoining property owner had a very large volume of shingles piled on his site - something that many prospective purchasers would view as a negative.

'But I weighed the costs of moving to a new site versus those of acquiring his property,' Crowther says, 'and saw that buying his site and grinding the material on it could solve a couple of problems for us.'

For one thing, says Crowther, it included the obvious chance to acquire the property at a good price, plus the ability to temporarily avoid paying tipping fees to dispose of his company's own stream of shingles.

'Tipping fees in southwest Florida are about $75 a ton, even more in certain areas,' he says. 'If we can avoid paying those, even for a short time, we certainly will. From the outset I had no desire to be either a recycler or a grinder, but I knew at the time this was the way to go.'

Crowther looked into a number of possible options for grinding and chose a Morbark 1200 tub grinder, a decision based on recommendation, value and reputation.

'I have a friend in Naples who is in the waste business, and he made recommendations as to what he thought I should do,' Crowther says. 'He provided me with two or three grinder names, I did some research and, based upon what I learned, called Morbark to find out what they had available. They told me about a used unit they had for sale in the area, and that really fit our situation at the time. We brought the unit on-site and it has been doing everything the manufacturer promised. In fact, considering the abrasive nature of the asphalt shingles, wear on the inserts and hammers has been even better than we had planned.'

Crowther adds that, during initial runs, the grinder was not performing up to their expectations, but that changed quickly as his people became familiar with the unit.

'In most cases, we use a loader to feed the tub grinder and, at the outset, we were probably overloading it, causing much slower performance than we were expecting. So we had to get a grasp of the proper feed rates, and once we did, throughputs went up nicely. Since doing that, performance has been steady, and the inserts and hammers have worn nicely. We check the inserts for wear and probably replace 20 percent every day. That's really better than we would have thought.'

Crowther's Morbark 1200 is making the asphalt grinding process a smooth operation. Alternative equipment designs, including rotary grinders with as many as 60 teeth, have not fared as well in this type of application. The teeth have proven not only to have high-wear characteristics but also to be extremely costly as replacement items.

Part of the credit for the good wear, Crowther feels, also goes to efforts to pre-sort the material before it is ground. Upon arrival at the site, trucks dump their loads into a staging area where a loader spreads out the load. At that point, workers check to identify and remove steel or other material that could potentially damage the grinder.

Crowther estimates that, on any given day, they will bring in four semi-truck loads of removed roofing material. The number of outbound trucks with already-ground material will vary from day-to-day - some days none, some days 50.

'The number of outgoing trucks does, of course, depend upon who is buying the ground material at that time. We have a number of customers who see a real use for it, including the city sanitation department which uses it for daily cover at their land fill,' Crowther says. 'We also have a lot of interest from people looking to pave or repave a parking lot. The material is ideal for their use in that it can be handled much like sand. It is simply put on the ground, spread and compacted. There is no preparation required and no topping needed for the material; you literally just put it down and park cars on it. We did our own lot, and the owner of a trucking company took enough material to do a 10-acre site. He was hauling material out of here for about six or eight weeks.'

While Crowther has been fairly successful at getting rid of the material, he is quick to add that the lack of a broader range of markets would make it tough for anyone else, particularly anyone in Florida, to do this work with an eye toward the future.

'When you consider the cost of a grinder, the loader to feed it, the personnel to operate and maintain the equipment and so on, we probably have a half-million dollars invested in this operation,' he says. 'That's an awful lot of money to make up. Granted, in a larger Metropolitan area like Chicago, for example, it would probably be a lot different. There, a company can have a steady source coming in at so much a ton and a steady source of the ground material going out at so much a ton. But I don't have steady, reliable markets for this material. The EPA doesn't want it near the water table, which in Florida is very close to the surface, and it's not good for use as an asphalt additive since the Florida DOT currently allows only 5 percent of this material to be mixed in for asphalt production.'

Crowther adds that dirt - which is really what his ground material can best be compared to - sells for $5 a yard in the Ft. Myers area. In order to make the ground shingle material even marginally attractive, they have to sell it at $3 or $4 a yard.

'Even if a person wanted to grow that part of the business, such depressed prices for the product make it nearly impossible to do so. That's why we've chosen to grind the material we have and move on.'

Though Crowther had no desire to get into the grinding business - and still has none - he has found that grinding can be an effective solution, even in the short term.

Eventually, he says, his company 'will be out of the grinding business for good.

'But we're still glad we took this route,' he adds. 'It really has been a good solution for us.'

Customer comments

  1. By Jane Austen on

    I had no idea that there was a way to recycle shingles. I'm trying to be more environmentally friendly, though, so I'm excited to send them off next time I replace them instead of just throwing them away. Actually I'm considering having a roofing contractor come over in a few weeks to replace the shingles before winter arrives, so this might happen sooner than planned ex. ).