Sustainable tile production takes out award

ARMSTRONG Australia, manufacturer and supplier of resilient floor finishes to commercial markets, took out the Endeavour's Environmental Solution of the Year Award for 2012, sponsored by Atlas Copco, for its Eco-Terazz End of Life Vinyl Composition Tile Recycling process.

Michael Jenkins, the company's Southern Asia/Pacific VP, said he was proud of what the company has achieved.
"It's great to receive recognition of the people who work for us. 

"We're a vinyl flooring manufacturer who does most of the supermarket floors in Australia. Today we can take an old floor up at its end of life, take it back to one of our plants and have it back on site as a new floor in seven days.

"That's a fantastic achievement and from an Australian manufacturing point of view we believe that sustainability is the number one issue to give us a competitive advantage and the differentiation.

"All we ask for is the support of the local population around those sites, around those activities."
Jenkins acknowledged the hard work of the staff and the use of innovative thought processes, saying this is what sets Armstrong apart.

"It's a great recognition of the people who did the work. It's very tough to take back a lot of end of life material, sort it, re-process it and get it back into a new product and get it out into the marketplace.

"Our people show enormous dedication and it really is the way of the future for us to remain in manufacturing in such a product as this," he said.

"It is vital to be a sustainable manufacturer and this is the critical way to do it. 

"We don't need to use raw materials. It's a continuous process of recycling materials life after life."

"It's incredibly innovative, it's never been done as far as we're concerned and we are unaware of any product that has been able to be completely taken back and re-processed back into itself life after life," Jenkins added 

"Thank you to all the people who contributed to this. It's a wonderful recognition," he said.

The project started back in 2010, when Armstrong, a large user of post consumer and post industrial recycled plastics which were often in short supply, sought other means to supplement these materials. 

The team at Armstrong wanted to be more environmentally focussed and sustainable as the management believed that this is where the future of manufacturing lies and so they created a point of difference in the Eco-Terazz End of Life Vinyl Composition Tile Recycling.

After much research and development, the company approached corporate end user clients and arranged to collect End of Life vinyl tiles from refurbished department stores and supermarkets for recycling back into a new product, Eco-Terrazz.

Firstly Armstrong concentrated on environmental changes within the business to do with consumption and had exceeded a goal to reduce potable water usage by 30% (sustained improvement is 50%), and met a goal to reduce CO2-e emissions by 40%; a third goal to achieve zero net waste from operations (defined: waste to landfill =< purchased recycled materials) proved difficult as existing external recycling streams did not produce enough suitable material.  

A natural extension was to accept our own product back at the end of its life and produce a new floor from it.  The initial objective was to develop a cost neutral end-of-life stream of material to meet our zero waste to landfill objective.

This recycled material enabled Armstrong to produce 200t of finished Eco-Terrazz, doubling their initial target. The development of Eco-Terrazz with 60% recycled content, has saved thousands of tonnes of material from landfill, as well as creating a new product for valuable export and local markets.

Some of the hurdles that had to be overcome in the process of creating the product was that after a review of local and export markets regulations it was uncovered that there were  restrictions in the use of some raw materials in common use 10 years ago which necessitated strict material testing.  

Further challenges were from: the likely quality of materials to be returned given construction waste was simply binned for landfill, returned multi coloured materials could not be easily be sorted for use in standard products, and there was no Australia wide developed supply chain.

Jenkins said these were overcome and capital investment was approved and the product was launched in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Image: Armstrong's Michael Jenkins (right) receiving the Award from Johannes Fourie, GM Atlas Copco Compressors Australia.