The largest-volume of recycled material used as construction aggregate is blast furnace and steel furnace slag. Blast furnace slag is either air-cooled (slow cooling in the open) or granulated (formed by quenching molten slag in water to form sand-sized glass-like particles). If the granulated blast furnace slag accesses free lime during hydration, it develops strong hydraulic cementitious properties and can partly substitute for portland cement in concrete. Steel furnace slag is also air-cooled. In 2006, according to the USGS, air-cooled blast furnace slag sold or used in the U.S. was 7.3 million tonnes valued at $49 million, granulated blast furnace slag sold or used in the U.S. was 4.2 million tonnes valued at $318 million, and steel furnace slag sold or used in the U.S. was 8.7 million tonnes valued at $40 million. Air-cooled blast furnace slag sales in 2006 were for use in road bases and surfaces (41%), asphaltic concrete (13%), ready-mixed concrete (16%), and the balance for other uses. Granulated blast furnace slag sales in 2006 were for use in cementitious materials (94%), and the balance for other uses. Steel furnace slag sales in 2006 were for use in road bases and surfaces (51%), asphaltic concrete (12%), for fill (18%), and the balance for other uses.
Glass aggregate, a mix of colors crushed to a small size, is substituted for many construction and utility projects in place of pea gravel or crushed rock, often saving municipalities like the City of Tumwater, Washington Public Works, thousands of dollars (depending on the size of the project). Glass aggregate is not sharp to handle. In many cases, the state Department of Transportation has specifications for use, size and percentage of quantity for use. Common applications are as pipe bedding—placed around sewer, storm water or drinking water pipes to transfer weight from the surface and protect the pipe. Another common use would be as fill to bring the level of a concrete floor even with a foundation. Use of glass aggregate helps close the loop in glass recycling in many places where glass cannot be smelted into new glass.
Aggregates themselves can be recycled as aggregates. Unlike deposits of sand and gravel or stone suitable for crushing into aggregate, which can be anywhere and may require overburden removal and/or blasting, "deposits" of recyclable aggregate tend to be concentrated near urban areas, and production from them cannot be raised or lowered to meet demand for aggregates. Supply of recycled aggregate depends on physical decay of structures and their demolition. The recycling plant can be fixed or mobile; the smaller capacity mobile plant works best for asphalt-aggregate recycling. The material being recycled is usually highly variable in quality and properties.
Many aggregate products of various types are recycled for other industrial purposes with economic and environmental benefits to the local and surrounding area. Contractors save on disposal costs and less aggregate is buried or piled and abandoned. In Bay City, Michigan, for example, a recycle program exists for unused products such as mixed concrete, block, brick, gravel, pea stone, and other used materials. The material is crushed to provide subbase for roads and driveways, among other purposes.
According to the USGS in 2006, 2.9 million tonnes of Portland cement concrete (including aggregate) worth $21.9 million was recycled, and 1.6 million tonnes of asphalt concrete (including aggregate) worth $11.8 million was recycled, both by crushed stone operations. Much more of both materials are recycled by construction and demolition firms not in the USGS survey. For sand and gravel, the USGS survey for 2006 showed that 4.7 million tonnes of cement concrete valued at $32.0 million was recycled, and 6.17 million tonnes of asphalt concrete valued at $45.1 million was recycled. Again, more of both materials are recycled by construction and demolition firms not in this USGS survey. The Construction Materials Recycling Association indicates that there are 325 million tonnes of recoverable construction and demolition materials produced annually.
Many geosynthetic aggregates are also made from recycled materials. Being polymer based, recyclable plastics can be reused in the production of these new age of aggregates. For example, Ring Industrial Group's EZflow product lines are produced with geosynthetic aggregate pieces that are more than 99.9% recycled polystyrene. This polystyrene, that would have otherwise been destined for a landfill, is instead gathered, melted, mixed, reformulated and expanded to create low density aggregates that maintain high strength properties while under compressive loads. Such geosynthetic aggregates replace conventional gravel while simultaneously increasing porosity, increasing hydraulic conductivity and eliminating the fine dust "fines" inherent to gravel aggregates which otherwise serve to clog and disrupt the operation of many drainage applications.