Vinyl flooring is a product made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. This plastic is lightweight and durable. Manufacturers use it in a wide variety of products for the home including pipes, siding, window frames and wall coverings. Like many other types of plastic, vinyl products are recyclable. While recycling vinyl keeps it out of a landfill, finding a recycler can be an issue.
Manufacturers produce over 19 billion pounds of PVC every year in North America alone, according to Green Building Advisor. The majority of vinyl is used in building materials. Reusing vinyl is a matter of melting down the old product and blending it with virgin resin -- plastic resin that has yet to be made into a final product -- then creating a new product.
The Vinyl Institute estimates that 50 million to 100 million pounds of vinyl is recycled each year by consumers, including builders and contractors. These numbers, while high, only represent about 10 percent or less of the total amount of recycled plastic, and just one-third of 1 percent of the annual amount of PVC manufactured as building materials each year.
Vinyl Recycling Issues
The PVC in vinyl flooring must be separated from other materials in and on the product before manufacturers can reuse it in other products. Additives -- such as colors, ultraviolet light inhibitors and heat stabilizers -- present problems for manufacturers. These additives may have been good for one PVC-based product, but not for another. Adhesives used to bond vinyl flooring to a subfloor also pose an issue for manufacturers wishing to use old flooring as a recycled product. This problem is exacerbated if the adhesive pulls up, for example, the plywood subfloor when the vinyl flooring was removed.
Recyclers depend on a steady flow of materials in order to make a profit. As a result of the low volume of PVC products recycled, there may be only a few vinyl recycling operations in your area. Not all regions or states have recyclers willing to take vinyl flooring. The economics of recycling vinyl flooring make it difficult on recyclers and on consumers wishing to recycle. Watch for flooring manufacturers and home centers that offer buy back programs for old flooring, or offer limited-time recycling for vinyl flooring.