Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How the flooring industry and consumers can reduce flooring waste sent to landfills

The “Green” movement is upon the floor covering industry - it has influenced our manufacturing processes for years. We have worked to increase manufacturing efficiencies, create more environmentally friendly products and even found ways to make recycled materials into flooring, such as using plastic drink bottles to make residential carpet.  Low odor and low VOC’s are now standard in new flooring.  Floors are now being produced with recycling in mind at the inception of their life. We have a variety of programs in place to recycle, re-use and re-purpose flooring that help to keep old flooring out of landfill, such as the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE). But we can do more to reduce waste at the end of a floors life cycle, and today I want to talk about how everyone in the industry can become part of the solution that reduces flooring waste in landfills.

Up to now our flooring manufacturers have taken the lead on making our industry more socially responsible through product innovation and process improvements. But every other tier of our industry including specifyers, retailers, distributors, logistic providers, installers and even our consumers can make a big difference by following my “get it in the door and keep in on the floor” philosophy. Simply put...Specify, sell and deliver the right product for the job and make sure it stays in place for its expected life cycle by installing it properly and teaching the customer how to maintain the floor. 

The biggest contributor causing flooring waste to end up in landfills is pre-mature replacement of flooring when the wrong product is specified or the right product is improperly installed.

Flooring is installed in virtually every building and home in the world creating the potential for billions of square feet of eventual waste material.  When a floor is removed and replaced the old floor goes to a landfill so it stands to reason that if the floor fulfills its expected life cycle, and is not replaced prematurely, there will be less flooring waste clogging our landfills.

Here are some ways that our industry partners and consumers can address this problem. 

•    “Get it in the door and keep it on the floor” should be the mantra with every flooring project.  By “get it in the door” I mean, get the right product for the job delivered.  By “keep it on the floor” I mean, make sure it stays down; that the installation is done right and the floor is maintained and cared for properly so that it will fulfill its expected life cycle.

•    Don’t rush the installation. You’ve heard the saying, “haste makes waste.” Well, when projects or jobs are rushed they can and do create waste.  Why is everyone in such a hurry to get the job done only to have to come back later and fix all the mistakes?  This is the epitome of waste and a wanton disregard for the environment.

•    Make sure the installation is error free. Even if it’s the right product for the application, unless the product is correctly installed over a proper substrate in the right environment, failure of some kind is inevitable.  Here, advancements in mechanical bond, moisture resistant adhesives, adhesive free backings and advanced installation systems are available to prevent installation failures. 

Two issues adding to installation failures recently are the increased use of recycled content in flooring covering backings and concrete substrates that are not properly cured before flooring is installed. I talked about this in my blog post about flooring failures and how to avoid them. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to remediate the conditions so flooring can be successfully installed.  But here I’d like to say, “We have an app for that!"

New technology can overcome most installation challenges. A host of new, recently developed technologies can overcome conditions that, up to this point, wreaked havoc with installations and cost upwards of millions of dollars to fix.  Ironically, the biggest hurdle to date has been getting our own industry to accept those new systems. We are historically suspect of new technology due to the “not invented here” syndrome because flooring manufacturers and the industry in general are apprehensive about what we sometimes perceive as “magic wand” science. The paradigm shifts in this area are perhaps the most difficult for the industry to swallow but be assured the technology is real. This category actually holds the most promise for virtually eliminating installation failures, if we would only embrace it.

Floors last longer with proper maintenance. Once installed, if the floor is not properly cared for it can’t last.  It will “ugly out” faster than a speeding bullet.  This can be caused by not having the right surface or colors for the application.  If you install a light color carpet in a busy hallway it won’t mask, hide or mute soil and the floor will be doomed to a short life.  When properly cared for with a planned maintenance program that is correctly implemented, most any floor will last until you get tired of looking at it. 

Reducing this waste in the life cycle of flooring is something the industry has focused on for years but reducing waste at the end of the floors life cycle is a solution that everyone, even our consumers can become a part of. If you already have a program that addresses this issue we would love to hear about it.


Lew Migliore is President of LGM and Associates, a technical consulting firm specializing in all aspects of product and installation performance and education. He is also a consultant with the Floor Covering Institute.


  1. Hi Lew,
    Nice post. You are so right, CARE is doing a great job recycling carpet and diverting it from landfills and into useful products.

    For your readers who want to design a maintenance schedule for their facilities, information is available on the Carpet and Rug Institute blog, www.criblog.org. Thanks again for the great info!

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