Technological watch

Circular vinyl

Carla Eslava is the Collection Schemes Manager for Recofloor, a collection scheme for commercial waste vinyl flooring that can be recycled into new products. Here she discusses the scheme’s contribution to the circular economy in construction.

How does Recofloor extend the value chain for used PVC/vinyls' Recofloor

Circular vinyl Carla Eslava

Recycling vinyl flooring installation offcuts ensures they get a second life. Clean vinyl can go back into new flooring, while unsuitable material can be used in traffic management products, such as traffic cones. This means used vinyl is given at least another 10 years’ life in durable products that can ultimately be recycled again. The use of recycled PVC in those types of products has revolutionised that industry.

As most manufacturers can shred end-of-life products, the PVC can be recovered and reused again – potentially for decades. It’s a great example of the circular economy in the construction sector. With difficulties in virgin and raw material supply, being able to recycle is really important.

There is rising demand for recycled polymer in general. For Recofloor, the best-case scenario is to recycle it back into flooring because it means that flooring manufacturers are using less virgin material. There’s a huge and growing demand for traffic management products wherein manufacturers rely on recycled polymer. If it can be collected, there is a use for it.

Which materials are acceptable, and which cannot currently be recycled'Acceptable materials are installation offcuts and uplifted smooth and loose lay vinyl, as well as Luxury Vinyl Tiles (LVTs) and safety offcuts and roll-ends. Cushion vinyl cannot currently be recycled.

Safety flooring, with its gritty texture, is more challenging to process. Uplifted material is the most challenging due to the adhesive or screed, but also because of potential legacy additives. Waste management and collection of uplifted material is an area of future focus for the industry.

How far is the industry from improving the recycling rates of these'It’s quite far. That’s why we’ve put a lot of effort into recycling the offcuts. The flooring manufacturers have done a great job in reducing waste when flooring is manufactured, and all the production scrap is recycled.

Recycling the cleaner offcuts is the next stage and this is going well through Recofloor because it’s clean material and easier to recycle. If more people participated in the scheme, and if there’s more buy-in from the construction industry, we could get more material.

However, tackling the uplifted flooring is always going to be challenging given that there is no dedicated sorting and recycling infrastructure. Recofloor relies on the flooring network and the efforts of its 500+ members to collect the material, which is then backhauled to the manufacturers for on-site sorting.

Recycling waste vinyl flooring is done either by the manufacturers or those making the traffic management products. They are relying on the existing infrastructure, which is actually there, albeit for different reasons.

How much PVC flooring has Recofloor helped to divert from landfill/incineration to date' How much evades your efforts'Just over 6,000 tonnes since September 2009 when the scheme was launched by flooring manufacturers Altro and Polyflor.

Of the estimated 7,500 tonnes of offcuts generated annually, we collect about 600 tonnes per year. Just under 7,000 tonnes are disposed of by other methods. There is an economic incentive for contractors to use the Recofloor scheme as collecting offcuts through Recofloor is more cost-effective, saving on disposal costs.

There are around 29,000 floor layers in the UK, offering great potential to spread the message, attract new Recofloor members, and collect more material for recycling. 

How well does the recycling industry perform in terms of gender equality compared to others'While gender equality across the industry is still a work in progress, I’m seeing women playing a greater role in taking action to drive a sustainable circular economy and address climate change.

Throughout my 10-year career I have learned so much from the many women working in waste management and recycling and continue to be inspired by them. I feel fortunate to work in materials recovery and towards a more inclusive, circular economy. I’m sure that the industry will continue to see and hear more female voices at the forefront of climate and waste issues.

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Publication date: 01/04/2022

European Plastic Product Manufacturer

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31