Highways of Gold: Asphalt Recycling

A Fernie-based asphalt recycler is on ?an environmental mission to turn old roads into new, decreasing the amount of oil being dumped into our streets and highways.

You may see blacktop, but Shane Stothert sees 160 barrels of oil in every one-kilometre stretch of highway lane.

A Fernie-based asphalt recycler is on 
an environmental mission to turn old roads into new, decreasing the amount of oil being dumped into our streets and highways.

Every time you drive on a blacktop road, you’re gliding along a ribbon of black gold. Or at least, that’s the way Shane Stothert wants you to see it. The general manager and co-owner of the family-run Green Roads Recycling Ltd. has made it his life mission to change the way the world values streets and highways. 

One of Canada’s oldest asphalt recycling companies, Fernie-based Green Roads Recycling, has repaved upwards of 4,500 lane-kilometres of asphalt in the province using a B.C.-pioneered technique that heats, mixes and re-lays asphalt on the spot. Adding only 20 per cent new material compared to the 80 per cent that conventional repaving would use, the company has breathed new life into more than two million tonnes of asphalt in B.C. over the past two decades.

That’s a big deal when you consider that asphalt contains 95 per cent aggregate and five per cent oil, translating 
to more than 160 barrels of oil in a kilometre-long road lane.

Shane’s father Skip, a savvy lifelong entrepreneur, founded Green Roads Recycling in 1989, and since then the company has worked on nearly every major highway in the province. Whether you’re driving on the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler, through Hope on Highway 1, from Vanderhoof to Prince George, or along the Coquihalla through to the Alberta border, you’re likely driving on a road recycled by Green Roads’ 17-person crew.

Bridge & Tunnel: Should B.C.’s road hogs pay for crumbling highways?

Shane Stothert neither looks nor speaks like a man who lives and breathes asphalt. In a bright blue windbreaker with slightly mussed hair, the handsome, soft-spoken 40-year-old looks more like he walked out of a Mountain Equipment Co-op advertisement than off a dirty construction site. His look offers a hint of the university years that he spent engaged in environmental activism before deciding he could make a bigger impact through business, and following in his dad’s footsteps.

“People take roads for granted,” Stothert says as we walk in the drizzling rain through North Vancouver’s Lonsdale core. “We see roads as depreciating assets when really, 30 years from now when that material falls apart, it is going to be exponentially more valuable.”

That’s why Stothert has dedicated himself to spreading the word about asphalt-recycling. In the past few months alone, he has received calls seeking advice and partnerships from the Middle East, China, Mexico, Tanzania, Nigeria and throughout the U.S. 

Stothert is first to point out that the asphalt recycling industry he represents still faces an uphill climb. Even the pioneering B.C. government designates only about six jobs a year as hot-in-place contracts. With three hot-in-place companies bidding on those jobs, Green Roads has never operated at more than 80 per cent of full capacity. But nevertheless, the industry’s growing reputation leaves him hopeful.

“Roads are falling apart quicker than we can rehabilitate them, and budgets are shrinking dramatically. They have to start doing more with less,” says Stothert the businessman, before the environmentalist in him comes to the fore. “The more we recycle now, the better off we’re going to be in the future. We’re going to be preserving all those things for future generations, almost infinitely.”