Post-installation vinyl flooring is recycled at Tarkett's Clervaux plant

Post-installation vinyl flooring is recycled at Tarkett's Clervaux plant

The importance of floor finishes in terms of building sustainability should not be underestimated. This apparently minor, low-mass element has, according to the BRE, the greatest environmental impact of all construction elements – up to 40 per cent in the case of frequently replaced carpets. In the UK, carpet and vinyl are among the most popular and frequently specified flooring choices for commercial and public projects. While the environmental attributes of more ‘natural’ flooring alternatives, such as wood, ceramic, linoleum and rubber are well known, concerns remain over the viability of some carpet and vinyl products – particularly in terms of life cycle assessment (LCA). But this may be about to change. Manufacturers have made significant environmental progress over the last few years, as evidenced by the increasing number of A and A+ Ecopoint ratings being awarded to carpet and vinyl flooring products. The most notable gains have been in three areas: recycling, energy reduction in manufacture, and product innovation.

Improvements in recycling and recyclability have focused primarily on providing end-of-life solutions for existing products, reducing production waste, and increasing the recycled content of new products. Manufacturer of fibre-bonded carpets and carpet tiles Heckmondwike says there are currently three ways to recycle carpet. The first is to extend the product’s life through recovery, cleaning and reuse. The second involves shredding the product into a raw material feedstock for the plastics industry. Third is energy recovery; carpets contain high-energy synthetic components, which can be used as fuel in cement kilns or for power generation. Heckmondwike together with Desso, Burmatex, InterfaceFLOR and other carpet manufacturers are founding members of Carpet Recycling UK. Formed last year, the trade association aims to reduce the landfill burden of carpets (currently around 500,000 tonnes per annum) and to recover valuable raw materials for reuse. According to Carpet Recycling UK, market evaluation indicates that savings in landfill charges – especially given the increase in the landfill tax escalator introduced in April 2008 – can offset the cost of collecting and sorting residential carpets. Last year the organisation helped recycle over 8000 tonnes of carpets and carpet tiles.

One of the newest carpet re-purposing businesses is Cardiff-based Cleanstream Carpets CIC (community interest company). The company accepts any make of carpet tile; which are then sorted and re-categorised (dependant on quality) ready for the re-sale market. Carpet is also donated to community projects, where it forms part of starter-packs for people who have recently been re-housed.

Reducing and or re-using production waste has been shown to provide significant environmental benefits, particularly in large-scale manufacturing operations. Global carpet manufacturer InterfaceFLOR has recently introduced two major initiatives in this field: ultrasonic cutting and Cool Green. Based on NASA technology, the bespoke ultra- sonic cutting machine has been designed to reduce ‘window waste’ – the excess trimmings from cutting tiles out of rolls of carpet. The company anticipates that the machine will reduce waste by up to 80 per cent, enabling it to eliminate 310 tonnes of material each year. Other benefits include increased productivity, carpet tiles with sharper edges due to improved cutting, and reduced dust levels, ensuring a cleaner working environment.
Cool Green takes waste carpet from the manufacturing process, including off-quality tiles and window waste, and recycles it into backing for new carpets. The four-part process begins by breaking down the waste trimmings into 10mm pellets using a rotary guillotine. These are transferred into an agglomerator and fed through a dye, resulting in homogenous pellets comprising polypropylene, glass fibre and nylon. The pellets are then pulverised into a fine powder (approximately 40 microns) and mixed into the bitumen compound used for new carpet backing. The technology is run in parallel with InterfaceFLOR’s ReEntry scheme, which collects used tiles from buildings having new carpet fitted. While low-wear carpet tiles are sent for re-use, non-re-usable product is recycled using the Cool Green method. The system can process up to 160,000 square metres of floor tiles per year, and is expected to increase the total recycled content in InterfaceFLOR’s carpet backing to as much as 74 per cent.

Gradus has reduced its landfill usage to almost a quarter of the tonnage shipped in 2000. Reductions of around three per cent have continued since 2006. All nylon yarn waste is recycled and all polypropylene yarn is collected and recycled into underlay. More recently, the company has developed a recycling process that allows it to convert pvc-backed nylon carpet into a new backing material (ER3) for newly manufactured products, such as the Adventurer range. This particular range can be fully recycled at the end of its working life (if specified with a PVC or ER3 backing) into new ER3 backing, thereby further reducing the impact on landfill. It also contains 30 per cent recycled content, and has an extended performance warranty of 25 years – if backed with ER3 – due to its special bonding system. The manufacturer has also introduced Gradus Tyreguard, a floor matting system made from 100 per cent recycled material from aircraft tyres. Of this, at least 50 per cent is vulcanised rubber and the remainder is textile material.

Desso has demonstrated its commitment to reuse and recycling by entering into a partnership with the Hamburg-based Environmental Protection and Encouragement Agency (EPEA), led by renowned chemist Professor Michael Braungart. The strategy is based on Braungart’s Cradle-to-Cradle concept, which aims to create products that can be completely recycled – without loss of quality – to provide raw materials for new goods. Among the products recently launched by Desso with this philosophy in mind is Reclaim. The carpet tile is made from 100 per cent Econyl Aquafil solution dyed nylon with a pile fibre consisting of 70 per cent recycled content and 100 per cent post-consumer recycled polyester primary backing. Furthermore, it is one of the first carpet tiles to receive a certificate from the independent German test institute GUI concerning improved indoor air quality.

Waste recycling from Desso’s factories is said to exceed 90 per cent, with more than 26 different kinds of waste collected separately. The company is currently recycling carpet waste and stabiliser (chalk) in the cement industry, where they are used as a high calorific fuel and a raw material respectively. All textile dust is extracted, collected and used as fuel in other industries.

Most of the post-manufacturing waste produced by Burmatex is turned into animal bedding, typically used in equestrian centres. The company has also been trialling alternative materials and processes in the manufacturing process. An example is limestone filler, which is a by-product of limestone cutting and would otherwise go to landfill. Forbo takes all the edge trim from its carpet tile cutting and sends to a partner-company which compacts it into ‘bricks’ for use in road building.
In terms of vinyl flooring, the main ingredients used in the manufacturing process are polyvinyl chloride (pvc) and plasticisers. Pvc waste can be recycled in three main ways. First, it can be mechanically recycled and reused in the production of same or similar applications. According to Vinyl 2010 – the European pvc industry’s ten-year voluntary programme on sustainable development – mechanical recycling makes ecological and economic sense only where sufficient quantities of homogeneous separated and sorted waste are available. Second, pvc can be feedstock recycled, ie broken down into its chemical components and re-used within a range of industrial processes to manufacture new products. Third, it can be incinerated with energy recovery to ensure that the calorific value of the oil used in pvc production is recovered.
According to Polyflor, the challenge with post consumer vinyl waste is recovering the material, rather than the ability to recycle it. The manufacturer is currently involved in Recovinyl, a European-based initiative designed to increase the recycling of post-consumer used pvc materials. Backed by the British Plastics Federation, the scheme is funded by the pvc industry through the Vinyl 2010 programme, and is led in the UK by Axion Recycling, with additional support from the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Under the scheme, any waste sorter or collector can apply to become a Recovinyl ‘member’; the only requirement is to bring waste pvc to an accredited recycler or recovery firm. Commercial and practical arrangements are then made with a chosen accredited local recycler to deliver the pvc waste to a participating waste transfer station or pvc recycling company. Data on the amount of delivered pvc waste is logged every month onto a members-only section of the Recovinyl website. Once this has been confirmed and verified, payments are made direct to the member’s bank account.

Polyflor explains a key aspect of the scheme has been to create common collection points and drop-off sites in order to maximise efficiency and minimise the carbon footprint. As a result, waste comes back for sorting to Polyflor or other sites depending on geography and or logistics. The 45,000 tonnes of end-of-life vinyl recycled via the Recovinyl initiative in 2008 produced a net saving of up to 71,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions compared to using virgin polymer. Polyflor says the collection and recycling of post consumer waste was one of last year’s biggest success stories, with figures rising from 500 tonnes to 736 tonnes.

In September this year, Altro and Polyflor launched the UK’s first vinyl flooring take-back scheme. Managed by Axion Consulting, Recofloor involves recycling safety off-cuts and smooth vinyl off-cuts from the installation process back into new flooring products. Uplifted, or end-of-life material will be used in the manufacture of traffic calming products, such as cones or road barrier bases. The aim is to create a sustainable, cost-effective and efficient collection system. Waste flooring will be accepted from all types of sources; from individual contractors to large construction projects. Registered Recofloor participants will be provided with bulk bags, which can be collected from site when filled with vinyl flooring. Alternatively waste can be deposited at one of 19 designated sites across the UK.

Tarkett has been collecting post- installation vinyl waste from large contracts, including hospitals and schools, as well as specific flooring contractors for a number of years. This not only provides installers with an environmentally responsible means of disposing of their waste, but also keeps the manufacturer’s Clervaux recycling plant in Luxembourg supplied with a steady stream of material. Tarkett concedes that the quantity of post-installation waste available is limited. The real prize is to be able to collect and reuse flooring at the end of its life. Joining forces with Axion, it has been trialling an end-of-life collection system in the UK and developing processes to incorporate the material into new first-quality flooring. At present Tarkett uses an average of 25 per cent recycled material in its vinyl floor coverings.

Rejecting claims concerning the difficulty of recycling safety flooring – due to the abrasive nature of the aggregates contained in the product – Altro has successfully installed and commissioned what is said to be the world’s first in-house safety flooring recycling system. As a result, the manufacturer has not sent any waste pvc to landfill since mid 2007 and now recycles 100 per cent of its factory waste alongside some installation waste. Altro says in principle it could recycle 100 per cent of its safety flooring depending on collection networks and contamination issues.
Amtico recycles 100 per cent of its post-production material back into the two base layers of its vinyl products. In the US, up to 60 per cent of one of these layers is now produced from reclaimed post-industrial pvc waste. This, says the manufacturer and Recovinyl member, is something it is currently researching with a view to introducing in the UK. Polyflor’s homogeneous products and luxury vinyl tiles contain an average of 25 per cent and 15 per cent recycled material respectively.

Forbo is currently participating in a pilot project organised by the French flooring manufacturers’ association (SFEC), aimed at collecting and transporting post installation and post consumer waste for recycling. The waste is processed at AgPR in Troisdorf, Germany; a pvc recycling plant set up and financed by Vinyl 2010. Forbo has its own shredding and reworking plant for recycling pvc in Coevorden, Holland, and is now able to make floor backings that have close to 70 per cent recycled content. The manufacturer is planning to introduce a sample take back scheme for all mature markets in the next 12 months, providing customers with the opportunity to return flooring samples they no longer need.

Energy reduction in manufacture
Closely associated with recycling waste is reducing energy use during manufacture. Carpet manufacturer Desso says it has achieved a 73 per cent reduction in energy use since 1998. At its Netherlands plant alone, it has reduced energy consumption per square metre of product produced by 23 per cent since 1998, resulting in a 23 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. InterfaceFLOR is now over half way to completing its Mission Zero initiative; the aim being to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2020. According to the company, energy efficiency programmes have resulted in a 67 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on an absolute basis since 1996. A commitment to renewable energy and further changes to the production process have allowed for 100 per cent use of renewable electricity in the company’s manufacturing processes throughout Europe. A waste reduction programme has saved an estimated £256m. All Forbo’s carpet tiles are manufactured using 100 per cent green electricity. Over the last five years it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions and bitumen usage by an estimated 20 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. It has also invested £1.8m in the latest tufting machinery, which uses four per cent less electricity than previous machines.

Production process initiatives undertaken by Polyflor have resulted in a 36 per cent reduction in manufacturing energy use over the past eight years. Automatic shutdown systems have been installed to ensure machinery is switched off when not in use; lighting optimisers are providing energy savings of 25 per cent; metering and monitoring for air, steam and energy use identify leakages, unnecessary use and new ways of reducing energy consumption. Independently audited by the Carbon Trust, carbon emissions to date have been cut by 13,370 tonnes since 2000.

Tarkett says its main European production centres have cut total organic emissions by 50 per cent and water consumption and non-recycled waste by 30 per cent each. Altro has been engaged in energy and water saving projects for many years. Over the last two years it has reduced energy consumption by over seven percent and in the past ten years has reduced water consumption by 99 per cent. Landfill waste has been reduced by over 25 per cent.

Product innovation
Improvements in product performance also have role to play, in spite of the fact that commercial floor coverings are often replaced well before the end of their serviceable life (carpets may be changed as many as 12 times over a sixty-year period). In addition to the recyclable Adventurer range, Gradus has launched Genus, a carpet made from inherently stain and fade-resistant Marquesa yarn. The fibre is said to be extremely easy-to-clean and maintain and does not require any harmful topical treatments. This has the effect of reducing maintenance costs and extending the lifecycle performance of the carpet, thereby helping to prevent early disposal. The carpet comes with a ten year wear warranty and has a ‘A+’ rating (the highest) under the BRE’s certified environmental profile scheme.

Tarkett has pioneered the development of surface treatments, introducing the first pur (polyurethane reinforcement) in 1975. Its third generation pur treatments used today are designed to reduce maintenance costs by up to 50 per cent and significantly reduce the consumption of water, energy and detergents needed for cleaning. Tarkett explains, improved surface resistance gives superior durability and ensures the flooring looks good year after year. This impacts on life cycle costs since floors need replacing less often.

According to Polyflor, the in-use phase of the resilient flooring life cycle accounts for at least 80 per cent of its environmental impact. As such, it has focused its efforts on developing products that greatly reduce the need for energy intensive cleaning. An example is the Supratec soil release polymer system for sustainable maintenance. It has also tackled the issue of flooring adhesives – some of which contain high voc contents – by introducing the Attraction system of fast-track, loose-lay tiles with interlocking edges.

Another manufacturer that has successfully avoided adhesives is The Versatile Flooring Company. Made from a range of recycled plastics, including pvc, ppe and abs, the loose laid interlocking Ecotile is suitable for a wide range of applications including industrial, commercial, schools and garages. The recycled content of black Ecotiles is 100 per cent, for light and dark grey it is 75-100 per cent, and for other colours it is 50-100 per cent. In 2007, the manufacturer converted 20,000 tons of waste plastics, including post-consumer and post-industrial into product. The tiles themselves are fully recyclable and the company operates a free collection and recycling scheme.

Elsewhere, Gerflor has launched Protecsol, a UV-cured PU (polyure-thane) surface treatment that is said to eliminate the need for polish/wax. Last but not least, Altro has introduced fully recyclable packaging for its products.

• Altro (
• Amtico (
• Burmatex (
• Cleanstream Carpets (
• Desso (
• Forbo (
• Gerflor (
• Gradus (
• Heckmondwike (
• InterfaceFLOR (
• Polyflor (
• Tarkett (
• The Versatile Flooring Company (

ET21/November 09 p20

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