Is laminate wood flooring a sustainable option?
The short answer: it depends. The easy answer, probably not. The likely answer no way. Laminates are bonded together with toxic glues and made to look like wood.
They look like wood and feel like wood but many of today’s low cost wood floors are laminate. That means they are made with crushed up wood and mixed together with glue, much in the same way magical cardboard bikes or bamboo plates and furniture are put together. Taking a natural material and then bonding it all together with plastic glue does not make a product green. Remember the ramen noodle guy? He can fix anything with ramen noodles and crazy glue. That’s what laminate flooring is and basically most bamboo products. Don’t get bamboozled.
One one hand manufacturers use renewable resources but on the other hand, everything is held together with petrochemical-based glues which contain neurodisruptors and toxins.
The most eco way to make a wooden floor is to use reclaimed wood from building sites. Or from sunken logs brought to the surface and processed. With a little hunting around you can find gorgeous ancient wood that you can replane at a carpentry shop and you have an ancient 100% eco floor. Or maybe when you dig up the old tiles in your house you might find a perfectly gorgeous old wooden floor or another set of tiles.
Another wooden floor option is to buy new planks from sustainably farmed wood. Look for the FSC stamp but that’s not perfect either. And the cost of wood since Covid hit the world has made reflooring or home improvements right now a not so sustainable option.
Rcycling old wood into new laminate with veneeer is an option. In fact, most laminate flooring manufacturers now explicitly point out how sustainable and eco-friendly this flooring option is and use it as a major selling point for their product. I’d look at their safety and materials data sheets before buying laminate of any kid because it might contain formadehyde and all sorts of other toxins you’d be living and sleeping with.
Most laminate products are flasely labelled. And if you seacrh on Google they will scream for your attention. That means that we need to perform our due diligence and proper research before we can truly walk away knowing we’ve done what’s best for the planet.
As laminate flooring is made from a mixture of potentially toxic resin (glue) and fiber-board, how the materials made can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
It is possible to find eco-friendly laminate flooring, but the chance is doubtful that it will be unless you find a very specific company. Look around. Ask your friends. Although, even the most sustainable of practices surrounding production aren’t worth much if the product itself isn’t very sustainable, further complicating the issue. You’d need to look into greenhouse gas emissions and life cycle of the product.
Laminate Materials & Their Harvesting Checklist
To understand the ecological impact of laminate flooring, it should be understood exactly what it is made out of and where those materials are made from.
Sustainable laminate flooring that comes from FSC & PEFC sustained forests is essential to long term sustainability of this textile. About three ingredients make up the bulk of laminate’s four layer design. The topmost layer is typically made from aluminum oxide as a way to protect each individual plank while the rest of a plank is made primarily from fiberboard and resins.
The fiberboard needs to come from a sustainable place, as it is primarily made from wood. When laminate flooring is FSC & PEFC certified, it means that the wood used in the construction of each board comes from a forest that adheres to strict sustainability rules when it comes to how many trees and cut and in what configuration.
If laminate doesn’t carry this certification, there’s a risk that it was harvested from forests where clear-cutting and other bad environmental practices are in place. When harvested properly from forests that adhere to conservation rules laid out by governing bodies, the harvesting of the wood itself is eco-friendly.
Laminate Is Recyclable
When it comes to tile flooring and hardwood, very seldom are the materials recycled to be used in further building developments. The tiles often go to the dump and the hardwood will either suffer the same fate or become wood pulp at best, assuming whoever is disposing of the hardwood planks cares enough to make sure it goes to a recycling facility.
Laminate however is completely recyclable (in theory) though doubtful because of the toxins and glues in them. and there are many facilities equipped to separate the individual ingredients for reuse. The particle board interior layers are easily repurposed to give these materials a second life. If you have the energy for that.
Even the most battered and beaten laminate flooring can be sent to a chipboard center and properly converted into wood chips and fibers. Since only the top layer needs to be aesthetically pleasing, it doesn’t matter the condition of the individual planks being recycled. More often than not the new material used in the production of laminate flooring is the new layer close to the top with the design picked out by the customer. Check before you buy that your laminate is recyclable.
Waste From Other Industries Can Be Used
The wood fibers and chips that make up individual fiberboards present in laminate flooring don’t just have to come from other laminate floors, many other industries create massive amounts of bark, sawdust, or miscut wood, all of which can be sold to a laminate floor company for a fraction of the price and at a fraction of the environmental impact of felling new trees. You can make laminate from any sort of material, probably even ramen noodles. Remember: it’s not the material they are selling that you need to look at carefully. It’s how it’s all held together.
If you think about the sheer volume of industries that make use of wood and end up with lots of scraps at the end of the day, it is easy to see how the laminate flooring business can help put those scraps to better use. Very few products have the distinction of being able to deal with waste from other manufacturing processes, making this kind of flooring in a class of its own. That is a positive step.
Sustainable Creation Practices
The resins that keep laminate board together and at their strongest is primarily melamine, a resin recreated by a reaction of formaldehyde with a few extra toxic ingredients.
The overall amount of formaldehyde used in each board and at the factory as a whole has been on the decrease over time but it is a risky and toxic material. Laminate flooring that uses less formaldehyde is often marked with a CARB, P2, E1, or E0 designation that signifies a lower overall formaldehyde level. Think about whether you want to expose your office workers to this material before you cover the office in laminate.
When laminate flooring comes from FSC & PEFC certified forests, consumers can rest assured that no pesticides were used and that no heavy metals are present in any of the boards.
Even at the manufacturing plant most laminate flooring producers are tending towards equipment that has lower overall emissions to take advantage of the many different government incentives for doing so. This means that the manufacturing process is as environmentally friendly as possible, with new leaps in sustainability occurring on a very frequent basis. Again, look for materials data before you buy.
Installation Is Easy
No special adhesives are required to keep laminate flooring in place, this reduces the overall use of volatile organic compounds that are bad news for the health status of any living things nearby. This is true but if you are actually trying to isolate sounds in your home between floors you will need layers of plastic padding and piles of off gassing glue.
Laminate flooring can eliminate the need for VOCs altogether assuming you have purchased the variety that doesn’t need any adhesives whatsoever, which in today’s market is nearly all varieties.
Laminate can be LEED Certified
In response to poor practices in design that lead to deforestation and pollution of the environment, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program was created in 1993 to work as a watchdog in the building sector that wishes to ensure sustainable practices.
Building materials and techniques are ranked based on their overall impact on the environment, with everything from emissions during production to ramifications of installation & use taken into account. Most laminate flooring holds a LEED certification of at least certified, with some even going as far as silver and above in overall sustainability. Again look at the materials in the resins.
This burden hinges on the manufacturer, as it is their responsibility to ensure that they conform to all of the requirements of LEED as well as only obtaining their materials from FSC certified forests.
Any manufacturer that has done so will display this fact prominently, so if you can’t find these certifications from a certain manufacturer then it is best to keep shopping around until you find one that you can confirm without a shadow of a doubt contributes to sustainable building practices.
Cork might be the better option if you can find cork board that’s glued together with a natural resin. Or tile, or upcycled old wood. Or maybe just keep living with the old floor.