Different flooring manufacturers use different processes in manufacturing their luxury vinyl flooring. Some manufacturers prioritize using a high proportion of post-consumer recycled content in their flooring tiles, and others prioritize the durability that comes with using only 100% virgin vinyl.
But how does the content of your luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) affect the health of you and everyone that uses your organization’s facilities? Today I’m looking at the health and environmental impact your LVT can have.
Plasticizers are chemicals that are added to vinyl (and other plastics) to make it flexible, rather than being rigid, inflexible tiles. Traditionally the flooring industry has used chemicals called phthalates as an ingredient to make plasticizers – many of which are now known to cause health problems (including reproductive issues); some are even known carcinogens (source).
Thankfully, the flooring industry is gradually shifting away from using phthalates for plasticizers. For example, Milliken’s luxury vinyl tiles are 100% phthalate-free, and they use bio-based plasticizers instead which don’t pose a risk to human health or harm the environment.
Additionally, some plasticizers can react with adhesives when your flooring has been laid, and cause a problem called plasticizer migration. This is where a chemical reaction causes the adhesive to break down and your flooring tiles can discolor, soften, or come loose as the adhesives stop holding the tiles in place.
Lots of the recycled content in vinyl flooring comes from plastic materials dating back to the 1960s – building materials that have reached the end of their usable life and been put out for recycling. Unfortunately, building regulations have changed a lot in the past fifty years, and vinyl from the 1960s can often contain traces of substances that we now know to be harmful to human health.
This is the biggest risk that comes from choosing vinyl flooring with a high recycled content – you don’t know exactly what is in your floor tiles. In comparison, if you have tiles that use 100% virgin vinyl, you know it doesn’t contain any traces of harmful substances that can be introduced during the recycling process.
For example, the Healthy Building Network reveals that some flooring manufacturers recommend not using material from buildings built before 1990, due to the risk of asbestos contamination1. Also, a lot of recycled plastic content is sourced by stripping cables, and in this instance you end up with plastic that is contaminated with metals such as lead and cadmium, both of which are harmful to humans. To avoid these types problems, it's a great idea to ask your manufacturer about the health impact of their flooring.
It’s commonly assumed that using recycled content in your luxury vinyl flooring is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than using 100% virgin vinyl. However, the act of recycling vinyl to be re-used in flooring uses a lot of energy, and also means you are running the risks of introducing contaminants into your flooring.
As well as potentially containing harmful contaminants, recycled vinyl flooring breaks down sooner than 100% virgin vinyl, and therefore needs replacing sooner. This means that the lifecycle of your flooring is shorter and at the end of its life your flooring will either be recycled again (if suitable), or will end up in landfill. In comparison, virgin vinyl flooring is more durable and will last longer, and it may be suitable for re-use by a charitable organization to extend its useful life. And you can be sure that if you recycle it at end of life, you won’t introduce any contaminants into the recycling process.