When old tires are put out to pasture, they get a second life as a key component of Dodge-Regupol's ECOsurfaces Commercial Flooring.

This floor features six shades of Armstrong's Marmorette linoleum flooring. The product is made with various renewable raw materials, as well as post-industrial cork and wood dust.
Increasingly, the flooring industry's resilient segment -- which includes linoleum, rubber and vinyl products -- is embracing the concept of sustainability and bringing to market an advanced generation of floor coverings that feature recycled content.

That's not to insinuate that all resilient producers are going green. However, a growing number have taken note of end users' heightened environmental awareness and preference for building materials that are manufactured with renewable raw materials and incorporate post-consumer and post-industrial wastes that might otherwise be destined for landfill disposal.

Whether motivated by philosophical reasons or the profit potential in meeting a burgeoning demand, resilient flooring manufacturers who supply these environmentally friendly products are tapping into a briskly expanding sector of the flooring market.

Flexco's Flextuft flooring is made with recycled rubber materials.

Growth of recycled- and renewable-content resilient

"End-user demand for environmentally friendly products has increased significantly over the past several years and will continue to grow," says Kathleen Keller, director of Marketing for Dodge-Regupol, which manufactures the ECOsurfaces line of commercial recycled-rubber flooring.

ECOsurfaces is composed of 100 percent post-consumer styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) from tires and 30 percent post-industrial ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) used in the auto industry. The black body of the flooring is made with SBR, while the colored specks in the product come from the EPDM.

"Manufacturers, in general, have invested a lot of time and money in producing greener products that continue to have the attributes -- color choice, durability, etc. -- that designers are looking for while having less impact on the environment," Keller adds.

Kelli Inman, marketing coordinator for Flexco Corp., manufacturer of the EnviroFlex line of recycled-content flooring, reports that demand for the company's recycled products has doubled over the past five years. Wall base, treads and vinyl tile in the EnviroFlex line feature a post-industrial content of more than 40 percent. FlexTuft Rubber Tile, also part of the EnviroFlex product slate, is made with recycled rubber truck tires and has a post-consumer waste content in excess of 90 percent, Inman says.

"In our experience," adds Carol Fudge, marketing manager for Freudenberg Building Products, the manufacturer of Nora Rubber Floors, "end-user demand for recycled products has increased approximately 20 percent over the past five years." Roughly 70 percent of Nora's rubber products contain recycled materials, and all of the company's standard-quality products sport post-industrial recycled content ranging from 10 to 50 percent.

Introduced generations ago, linoleum has likewise enjoyed a recently renewed surge in popularity. No doubt, the fact that the product is made with both recycled and renewable ingredients -- including linseed oil extracted from flax plants, cork dust harvested from the dead outer bark of trees, natural jute fiber, and wood powder salvaged from sawdust -- appeals to the environmental sensibilities of many end users and accounts for a significant portion of that increased demand.

"All of our linoleum products contain recycled components," notes Robert Kilgour, Armstrong World Industries corporate manager, Product Stewardship, Environment, Health & Safety. "The recycled content is all post-industrial wood and cork dust. Linseed oil, jute and cork are also examples of rapidly renewable materials. This contributes to the excellent environmental reputation of linoleum." Additionally, linoleum floors are technically biodegradable if disposed of in an environment exposed to enough air and moisture for composting to take place.

Recycled-content sheet vinyl flooring also is enjoying a throttled-up rate of sales growth. The composition of Tarkett Commercial's homogeneous sheet vinyl is 24.5 percent recycled content. In recent years, demand for that product has jumped 5 to 10 percent, says Graeme Hendry, the company's product development manager and environmental specialist. "I would anticipate that, going forward, demand will increase to 10 to 15 percent," he explains. "Such products are here to stay."

In the manufacture of all its vinyl products, Tarkett reuses scrap material from production lines, and utilizes a closed-loop process so that nothing is wasted. Slightly outpacing their recycled-content counterparts, these "green or sustainable" floor coverings, Hendry says, will see estimated sales growth of as much as 20 percent over the coming years.

Tarkett's Optima homogeneous sheet vinyl flooring is manufactured with 24.5 percent recycled content.

Manufacturing processes, product performance and pricing

Johnsonite's Triumph Sport and Multi-Function Floor, as well as its Speckled Rubber Flooring, Replay Sport and Multi-Functional Floor, incorporates rubber scrap materials generated in the plant that are reprocessed with dust particles from its finishing activities. The manufacturing process is similar to those of other rubber flooring suppliers.

"When manufacturing Replay we take the reground truck tires and mix it with material that is then used for molding the tiles," explains the company's Senior Vice President Carmen Pastore. "The Triumph Sport and Multi-Functional Floor takes grindings from our rubber tile that we mix in a blender with all other raw materials. The end result, after going thru the calendar, mills and press, is the back layer of the Triumph floor.

"As for the Speckled Rubber Tiles, the scrap finished material from tiles is reground into different chip sizes," he continues. "These chips are added to our blender and raw material mix that then goes thru the mills, calendar and press. The chips stay in the same form and size as they were when first ground."

"During the manufacturing process," says Nora's Carol Fudge, "we use production scraps such as die-cut trim and sanding dust. The die-cut trim is granulated and becomes part of the raw material base of new rubber flooring products with decorative designs. During manufacturing, the sanding dust is used as high-quality filler."

Dodge-Regupol's ECOsurfaces is processed by mixing its SBR and EPDM components with a polyurethane water-based polymer in huge cylinders to form a "polymerically bound" rubber of uniform quality and density, says Keller.

Reclamation is a key aspect of the vinyl floor manufacturing process used by Tarkett. "At every stage of a product's lifecycle, we do all we can to eliminate or minimize any potential impact on the environment," Hendry explains.

"Throughout the production process, the product is created from industrial recycled content in a closed-loop process. Nothing is wasted. Installation waste can be shipped back from job sites via our distribution channel," he continues. "Additionally, Tarkett utilizes waste or scrap from other manufacturing processes. For example, we make use of cork powder from the cork industry in the manufacture of our Linosom Linoleum product.

"Recycling and reclamation programs are in place to help eliminate or minimize waste, and our environmental approach holds true across all product lines, for every plant we operate around the world and every truck we drive."

By and large, the performance of floors made with renewable materials and/or recycled content is comparable to alternative conventional types.

"Armstrong linoleum has an exceptionally long lifecycle," says Kilgour. "With proper maintenance, it will look as good 10 or even 20 years after installation as it did the year it was installed. And this longevity contributes to sustainable design because less energy is needed to manufacture and install replacement flooring."

"Our products that contain recycled-content meet the same standards for performance and durability [as conventional flooring]," Flexco's Inman says. "There is really no difference."

From some perspectives, recycled-content products have a distinct advantage over their conventional cousins. "Installation is certainly less expensive and much easier," says Keller.

"Installation for recycled rubber is simple -- dry lay the flooring, trowel the adhesive, roll out the flooring, butt the seams together, let it dry and you're ready to go," she explains. "With vulcanized rubber, the seams need to be trace cut, the required adhesive is more difficult with which to work, and the seams need to be brick weighted. It's a more cumbersome process."

The environmental and performance pluses these floors possess, in most instances, do come at an additional cost. "Due to the cost of raw materials, green products are usually a little more expensive," notes Inman. "It simply costs more to make a recycled product." Hendry adds that Tarkett's recycled-content products are about 5 percent more costly than the conventional alternatives.

There is optimism, however, that the higher manufacturing costs will not severely dampen demand for such products -- particularly as end users realize the benefits they reap for the additional expense.

"We believe that as people become more educated on what 'sustainability' means," Fudge opines, "they will also be looking at other aspects besides recycled products -- like product lifespan as well as life-cycle costs, environmentally friendly maintenance, and indoor air quality issues."