Today more than ever we’re becoming a lot more cognizant of our individual footprints when it comes to living a sustainable life on Planet Earth. This has made a big push for eco-friendly or “green” options in everything from our food to our furniture, and even to our choice in building materials.
One such product is none other than laminate flooring. 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. Another side effect of our desire for more eco-friendly products however is that some products are being falsely labelled eco-friendly in a bid to get more customers. 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 resin and fiber-board, how the materials made can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. 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.
Therefore it is important to consider the attributes associated with laminate flooring and what makes them truly qualify for the moniker of being eco-friendly:
Materials & Their Harvesting
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 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.
Besides being recyclable materials themselves, it can be converted back into raw materials, the pieces of the flooring are recyclable in and of themselves. Laminate flooring installation involves locking together several different pieces of laminate flooring, when it is time to uninstall these pieces, it is just a matter of taking away each plank one by one until they’re all gone. These pieces can then be reinstalled somewhere else without any need for modification whatsoever. Whether you or a friend reuses it or you donate it to a manufacturer’s recycling program, you can rest assured that laminate flooring is far from disposable.
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.
Waste From Other Industries Can Be Used
The wood fibers & 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. 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.
Sustainable Creation Practices
The resins that keep laminate board together & at their strongest is primarily melamine, a resin recreated by a reaction of formaldehyde with a few extra ingredients. The overall amount of formaldehyde used in each board and at the factory as a whole has been on the decrease over time. Laminate flooring that uses less formaldehyde is often marked with a CARB, P2, E1, or E0 designation that signifies a lower overall formaldehyde level.
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.
No Need For Harsh Chemicals
Some materials are eco-friendly in their production and use, but maintenance can be a whole other story altogether. Materials that need to be cleaned with harsh chemicals can hardly be considered eco-friendly, as the production of those chemicals is bad for the environment as well as any potential contamination they might cause.
This is why laminate gets another point in the eco-friendly department since only gentle, natural cleansers are necessary to keep laminate looking its best year after year. Even a simple solution of water and vinegar and a wet mop can keep laminate looking as stunning as ever, so that’s yet another point in laminate’s favor.
Laminate Doesn’t Contaminate The Air
Compared to other materials, laminate doesn’t contain any air-damaging chemicals and whatever chemicals that are in laminate tend to stay inside the board. This is because they are completely sealed from the outside which eliminates the possibility of any particles becoming airborne and affecting your health. Other materials can slowly shed off layers and layers over time, contributing to poor air quality inside your home and ultimately getting all over the place instead of staying confined to one area.
Installation Is Sustainable
Yet another place where laminate shows its eco-friendliness is during installation. 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. What this means is that very few to no noxious chemicals are necessary to enjoy everything laminate flooring can offer. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) more often than not can evaporate at room temperature, leading to a contamination of the room itself and anywhere else the air circulates afterwards. 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 is 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.
Looking At The Facts
Using the information provided above, we can now look at laminate flooring’s impact on the environment from the forest all the way to your house and beyond. Sustainability is ensured during the harvesting process by only taking wood from FSC certified forests that employ proper techniques to ensure the longevity of the forest over time. The materials required for laminate flooring are natural and renewable, making the creation of laminate flooring eco-friendly.
During the production process, care is taken to reduce the amount of emissions created by using minimalist production strategies that reduce the overall amount of carbon produced by the production of laminate flooring. Installation of laminate flooring doesn’t require any sort of noxious chemicals or harmful epoxies to set the flooring in place, the flooring locks into itself until the entirety of the floor has been put in. This means that it is very simple to install and doesn’t contribute to the production of harmful chemicals.
After laminate has been installed, keeping it clean & properly maintained doesn’t require much in the way of resources. As mentioned earlier, water and vinegar is sufficient to keep laminate flooring as beautiful as it was when it was first installed.
Finally, after laminate flooring has served its purpose it can either be directly recycled into a new project or broken down with its constituent materials reused in the creation of new laminate planks. Many manufacturers boast that their laminate flooring is made from up to 70% recycled materials, decreasing the overall burden on forests since fewer trees need to be cut down to ensure more laminate can be produced.
With these facts in mind, it’s easy to see that laminate flooring is extremely eco-friendly from beginning to end, laminate is routinely created using only the most environmentally friendly production techniques in mind. Few other materials can say that there’s no need for noxious chemicals whatsoever and that they are completely recyclable at the end of their lifespan. Suffice to say, laminate is not only eco-friendly, but it is perhaps one of the most eco-friendly options next to cork and linoleum. Therefore it is an obvious choice for anybody who wants to reduce their environmental footprint on the world and be able to say that they truly life a renewable lifestyle. As time marches on and the effects of our destruction of the environment become more and more apparent, we’ll know that those who elected to choose laminate floors weren’t part of the problem.
Many toxic chemicals that were once thought of as completely necessary for floor installation & care have been completely eliminated in the production of laminate flooring. The emissions from laminate flooring plants are lower compared to other, more synthetic flooring plants which gives it major points as far as eco-friendliness is concerned since emissions during production is where the bulk of most emissions come from for any product, let alone flooring. The fact that no chemicals are released into the air in your home is yet another nail in the coffin for laminate’s superb track record, eliminating the release of VOCs entirely.
Of course, some of 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.