9 Do's and Don'ts To Consider At The End Of Flooring's Life
First part of a two-part article on the best practices for what to do when flooring needs to be replaced.
The flooring industry has long been at the forefront of sustainability, ever increasing the green quotient of its products and processes. Facility managers can select flooring with high recycled content, low VOCs, rapidly renewable content, or locally sourced content. They can also use eco-friendly maintenance products and practices on the floors once installed. But when it comes time for a new floor, too often the old floor ends up in the landfill. Trash with a green halo is still trash.
It doesn’t have to be this way. And as more and more organizations adopt zero-waste policies, it’s up to facility mangers to figure out just what to do with all those square feet of used flooring. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider when disposing of flooring, as well as a few things to keep in mind when selecting its replacement.
1. Reuse it. One of the main “R”s of the eco mantra, reusing a product keeps it out of the landfill and prevents a new product having to be made to supply the need. Reusing flooring is most easily done with materials that aren’t damaged and are being replaced for an aesthetics refresh rather than because of a performance failure. Manufacturers are starting to produce more flooring products that are intended to be easily reused. Armstrong Flooring, for example, has a resilient flooring product that uses a pressure sensitive adhesive. The product can be “unlocked, cleaned up, and put in another location,” says Amy Costello, sustainability manager with Armstrong Flooring.
Carpet tile can also be cleaned up and relocated, though visible wear patterns will have to be evaluated. Flooring products with a lot of life left in them, but which have become tired in their current location, could be reused in a back-of-the-house location.
2. Third-party reuse. If there is no reuse case within the facility, the next logical step is still not a trash bin. Third-party resource management companies exist which take in any number of used materials, including flooring, from commercial facilities and offer them for reuse. repurposedMATERIALS, which has five warehouses around the country, takes in raised floors, gym floors, sports courts, synthetic turf, rubber flooring, carpet tiles, bowling alley lanes, you name it. Damon Carson, founder and president, says flooring is typically reused as flooring, just not in its original capacity. For example, the company recently acquired the University of Arizona’s basketball arena’s court, and is in negotiations to sell it to a chain of retail stores to use as flooring there. “The most common misconception is it’s obsolete to us, so it’s worthless,” says Carson. The basketball court, once sanded a few times, is no longer good for its purpose. “We wouldn’t sell it to a school district as another basketball court. But for a sports bar, for example, it has plenty of life left,” Carson says. Wood flooring can also be repurposed as interesting wall cladding, or table tops.
3. Recycle it. Recycling flooring material is almost a given, says Daniel Collins, director of healthcare markets with Shaw. This is particularly true of the post-industrial side of recycling, where waste product is captured from the facility where it’s being made or from another manufacturer. He says the more difficult part to capture is the post-consumer aspect, meaning getting used flooring from facilities to reclamation centers for processing.
“A lot of facility managers are interested in recycling,” says Diane Martel, vice president of environmental planning and strategy with Tarkett. “But the logistics and the work around recycling make it sometimes difficult for end users.”
When thinking about recycling flooring, what leaps to mind is carpeting. “Soft surface has been problematic in landfills for a long time,” says Martel. Carpet recycling has been going strong for a couple decades now, and there are organizations focused on carpet recycling, such as CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort), as well as many manufacturers that take back their own products.
“Our products are designed to be disassembled at end of useful life and to use the components to go back into carpets,” says Collins. At Shaw, carpet tiles are printed with an 800 number facility managers can call to initiate a reclamation project. If a facility has more than 500 square feet of material, “there’s no fee to recycle because it’s a technical nutrient for us, so we want it back,” says Collins. “We want all the product back we can get.”
Depending on the manufacturer and the product, carpet can be recycled into new carpet, or it can be made into post-consumer polymers to be used in other areas. If it is not recyclable, it can be used to create energy.
Recycling is a little less common in the resilient flooring market, though these types of floors are candidates as well. Costello says its usually their large-scale retail customers with robust commitments to zero waste that do the most recycling, though it is not a process limited to large players. At Armstrong’s recycling program, any of the company’s vinyl composition tile or luxury vinyl tile can be recycled back into new flooring. As a thermoplastic, vinyl can be melted back down and made into new vinyl product, she says.
Rubber, as a thermoset product, cannot be melted down but can be ground up to make mats or playground surface, for example. Costs to recycle through the Armstrong program are on a sliding scale, anywhere from free for very large jobs to just covering shipping costs if the job is very small.
According to Tarkett, there has been a 75 percent decrease in landfill facilities in the United States since 1986. Recycling helps keep materials out of these limited spaces, but it’s more than that, says Costello. “A lot of people think of recycling as just reducing waste,” she says. “For vinyl, you’re saving all the greenhouse gases, the carbon footprint that’s associated with that product. People just think we’re not sending something to the landfill, but it’s so much more than that.”
4. Know what you have. There is a little bit of work involved in recycling flooring instead of sending it to the landfill, but not significantly more. To recycle through Armstrong, facility managers initiate the reclamation with a phone call to the company and answering a few questions about the flooring they’d like to recycle. This is to help qualify the product so that the company is not bringing unwanted contaminants, such as asbestos, into its product stream. At Tarkett, they will recycle all carpet tile, but a sample of resilient flooring must submitted for analysis.
Flooring from segments that refresh finishes often, like hotels, will likely be easily recyclable. Floors in segments that keep them in place for longer, like schools, might have chemicals that would cause concern. “Chain of custody as well as legacy chemicals are an important part of recycling to make sure you don’t have issues with the product you’re bringing back,” says Martel.
VCT is the easiest to recycle of the resilient floors because it has always been manufactured in North America, she says. So if the floor was installed in the 90s or later, it’s a pretty safe bet what it’s made of. “When it gets more complicated is in the imports, where technology as well as stabilizers used and plasticizers may create more issues around legacy chemicals,” says Martel. “What’s in it and do we want it in an interior finish?” That said, if the flooring cannot be recycled back into flooring, it can still be down-cycled for use outside, or for energy