Recycling materials used in flooring has proved difficult in the past and relies on manufacturers taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. In some cases the environmental imperatives go against traditional economics but there is evidence that manufacturers are beginning to see that investment in green processes will bring increased sales as environmental issues and awareness are raised worldwide.
How Safety Flooring is Made
Safety flooring, laid down in commercial buildings to provide better grip for a sure footing, has proved more difficult than most flooring to recycle. Although many different combinations and types of material are used the basic concept is usually the same. A supporting substrate, usually screed or resin, is laid or poured with an amount of aggregate material mixed into it.
The aggregate protrudes slightly above the substrate providing a surface that’s like large scale sandpaper. It’s this that provides the extra grip of a safety floor. With many products the aggregate will provide grip through liquid spills, making the floors particularly suitable for situation such as catering or swimming pools. But the vast majority of safety flooring is used in commercial or industrial premises where it might also have a blend that’s particularly resistant to chemical spills or fire.
There is a third kind of safety flooring that comes as vinyl sheet flooring. The basic concept is the same but the sheet has the aggregate set into the vinyl at the point of manufacture. The vinyl rolls are then laid in the same way as any other sheet flooring.
Challenges for Recycling Safety Flooring
From a recycling point of view there are two major problems with a flooring system of this kind. The first is lifting the flooring layer, something that is nigh on impossible with resin or concrete screed types. This is where the benefit of the vinyl sheet safety flooring comes in, it can at least be lifted at the end of its serviceable life and removed to a recycling location.
Once lifted the aggregate and the substrate have to be separated and processed to a point where they can be re-used to manufacture another product. This is difficult because the aggregate is by its nature very abrasive, so it is difficult to design machinery that can manipulate it without wearing out very quickly.
Success in Recycling
One manufacturer has had success with resin-based products, constructing a system that can break up and recycle its own vinyl based safety flooring. The machinery effectively shreds the flooring before passing the resulting material onto a set of screening tables. These separate the fibrous matter and aggregate and the PVC is then sent on to a granulating machine which grinds it down into granules of roughly one-sixteenth of an inch. These are then reused when making new safety flooring.
Completing the Recycling Cycle
The final hurdle for recycling is finding a market for the recycled product but in this case the circle is completed in-house, with the manufacturer ploughing the recycled granules back into its own products. They currently have 10% recycled content in their flooring and are hoping to increase that.
At the same time they are involved in initiatives to enable redundant flooring from other manufacturers to be collected and recycled.