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The green rebirth

Cradle-to-cradle strategy can deliver eco benefits for vinyl flooring. Carla Eslava, Recofloor scheme manager, explains the relevance of this approach.

INCREASINGLY, designers and manufacturers in diverse sectors are embracing a cradle-to-cradle strategy within their sustainability policies as they seek to preserve raw resources and reduce their environmental impacts.

The cradle-to-cradle approach moves away from the conventional linear manufacturing process, which produces products that will end up disposed, towards a circular approach by eliminating post-production and post-consumer waste.

By recycling or reusing materials such as vinyl to produce new goods like flooring, the aim isn’t only to minimise waste going to landfill, but also to use resources sustainably and reduce the impact on the environment.

That’s why cradle-to-cradle strategy is an important element of the circular economy concept whereby materials can be reused or recycled at the end of a product’s first life and given a second life in a new one.

Circular approaches can take effect in the various stages of a product’s lifestyle. For example, material selection and design should enable longevity, recycling and repairability or biodegradability. In the case of vinyl flooring, which is durable and long-lasting, the recyclable PVC can be recovered for reuse – potentially for decades.

The flooring industry isn’t bound by law to recycle waste, but Altro and Polyflor have embraced the practice to reduce the carbon footprint of their manufacturing operations. Both companies consider all aspects of their products’ lifecycles as part of their sustainability strategies.

More than 15 years ago, the two flooring manufacturers took action to promote their products’ sustainability at a time when there was little appetite among others to follow their example. This led to them in 2009 co-founding Recofloor, the industry’s commercial waste vinyl flooring takeback scheme.

Significant investment by Altro and Polyflor continues to support and drive this successful scheme. Their innovative techniques and recycling technologies have made the recycling of waste vinyl flooring – including safety flooring offcuts – possible.

So how are Altro and Polyflor involved? Polyflor can recycle sheet and tile installation offcuts, smooth uplifted and looselay flooring, and old stock roll-ends and samples. This material is recovered and recycled into new flooring or other useful longer-life products such as traffic cones and barriers.

‘At Polyflor, we have a reclaim control system in our quality system procedure which includes post-consumer waste (Recofloor material). Incoming material is first sorted into material that can be identified as original Polyflor material by shade, this is then cut and granulated and is stored ready for reuse in the corresponding products,’ explains Peter Kitchen, technical manager.

‘Some products that cannot be identified or cannot be recycled into our manufacturing process are sorted and forwarded to a secondary recycler for the manufacture of non-flooring products such as traffic calming items. This includes uplifted flooring that can be contaminated with underlays and adhesive.’

Altro’s process is very similar to Polyflor’s, using the two material streams. In-house post-production material is granulated and can be reintroduced into Altro’s manufacturing process as well as being used to make long-life items in plastic injection products such as road traffic cones, barriers, and fittings for solar panels.

Incoming Recofloor material is sorted between safety and non-safety flooring and assessed on whether it can be used directly in the flooring manufacturing process or sent for external plastic injection product applications.

Thierry Neyroud, Altro’s operations and technical director explains: ‘Many of the applications are for products with a long lifespan. Of course, our products themselves are long-life items, because we give a 20-year warranty on our floors so the PVC itself is, from a carbon footprint viewpoint, is quite positive.

‘We’re working towards our 30% recycled and bio-sourced content target. We have evaluated our carbon footprint and therefore when we’re making the selection about reusing material internally or externally, we’re also thinking about the lowest impact of carbon.

‘It’s interesting when you’re looking at the circularity and CTC, while at the same time considering the carbon footprint. This starts to lift the decision making beyond just the materials and drives conversations around ‘is it better to use process A or process B from a carbon footprint perspective, thereby allowing us to make the overall best decisions for the planet.’

Of course, the recycling efforts by both manufacturers couldn’t happen without an efficient, nationwide collection system to capture waste vinyl flooring. Recofloor relies on the individual efforts of its 500-plus members who collect the material in Recofloor clear sacks, which can be dropped off at distributors or, for bulk larger volumes at their premises or it is collected direct from live project sites.

Well over 6,000 tonnes of waste vinyl flooring has been diverted from landfill since Recofloor’s inception. Recycling through the scheme can save members up to 70% up on their waste disposal costs, versus landfilling the material.

Recofloor’s collection and transport policy fits with the cradle-to-cradle ethos owing to the use of Altro and Polyflor’s transport in reducing vehicles on the road by backhauling the scheme’s collections, where possible, when new flooring is delivered. When backhauling isn’t possible, a pallet network transport system or the best environmental option is chosen. All this helps to reduce the environmental impact and saves on carbon emissions.

Altro and Polyflor’s transport teams agree that generally, waste collections run smoothly with clear instructions on what is to be collected. Altro’s Martin Pridmore says: ‘The waste collection process works very well – and it’s a good service to be part of.

‘The transport company we use responds quickly to collection requests. It’s good to know we’re making a difference that’s noticed by customers, and the entire sector alike.’

Echoing his comments, Dave Seddon of Polyflor adds: ‘I feel if we’re collecting the material for recycling in the course of our normal deliveries then this is practical and good for our carbon footprint.’

By setting themselves positive goals, Altro and Polyflor, through their successful Recofloor scheme, are following an eco-effective business model that delivers measurable added value. And this is enabled by their cradle-to-cradle philosophy.

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