Floor Covering Weekly: Recycling

Interview with Lin Gao, Sustainability & Quality Assurance Manager, HMTX Industries

Q: What flooring do you offer that either features recycled components/accessories or is able to be recycled at the end of its lifetime?

A: We primarily sell the vinyl (PVC) based resilient flooring products and have been making efforts to use the mechanically recycled factory production scraps as a feed stock for certain products.

Q: How do these recycling programs work and how do they contribute to the sustainability of flooring?

A: Due to the tremendous challenges from accommodating the complex non-PVC ingredients like fillers and other additives in the recycled feed stock, as well as the timid market acceptance for the products containing the recycled material, our efforts have had limited success so far. But HMTX is committed to continuing to explore the potential recycling solutions because we truly believe that the sustainability of flooring products will eventually depend on their recyclability.  We are focusing on the design and development of new products with the recyclability of certain product components, if not the whole products, in mind.  We are joining the initiatives made by such industry associations as the RFCI to explore certain recycling options and new technologies such as solvent-based separation methods and microwave-assistant chemical recycling.

Q: Why is sustainability an important consideration for your company specifically and for the flooring industry at large?

A: Sustainability is extremely important to HMTX industries: a core belief of CEO Harlan Stone that is reflected down to all company employees. It’s an imperative part of the company culture. This belief is formed and enhanced by witnessing the deteriorating living environment on Earth due to drastically increasing human activities. For the well-being of ourselves and our future generations, as well as all other creatures on Earth, we must take actions now as individuals, organizations, and societies.

Q: Do you think there will be more recycling options for flooring in the future? What would be needed to make that happen in terms of infrastructure?

A: The current options for recycling vinyl-based resilient floors are very limited. They are all physical (mechanical) processes and can hardly be considered as viable. We think that the future for repurposing these currently hard-to-recycle products lies in the development of new chemical recycling technologies that can break these complex polymeric products down to their molecular building blocks and thus can present versatile and more viable recycling solutions. 

With residential and commercial users spread virtually everywhere, appropriate infrastructure is critical and indispensable for recycling post-consumer flooring products. It is also necessary for recycling the pre-consumer products including production scraps on a large, industrial scale. Such an operation needs an abundant and stable supply of feed stock that certainly no single flooring manufacturer or installer can provide. This will involve establishing and sustaining a widespread and far-reaching network, as well as a robust logistical supporting system, for collecting, sorting, and processing both the pre- and the post-consumer flooring products.  To overcome all kinds of imaginable barriers, silos, and challenges for doing this, joint efforts by the government at various levels (federal, state, and local), businesses, communities, and societies are absolutely needed. A large initial investment followed by continuous funding is also needed.