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Custom-made recycling of laminate flooring

20 October 2009

Custom-made recycling of laminate flooring

Laminate flooring is basically made of wood which can be reused as a material or incinerated as a fuel. Either the individual product components are separated and recycled as wood chips or the flooring material is burnt, producing heat which enters the energy cycle.
Let’s start by dispelling a popular myth: laminate flooring is not special-grade waste as some people claim it is. Individual boards and leftovers from laying the floor can be disposed of along with normal residual or bulky waste, but the best approach for entire floors is to take them to the local waste disposal site. In some towns or cities, this will mean that they go straight to a waste incineration plant along with other residual waste. In other areas, e.g. that covered by waste management companies in Münster, Westphalia (Germany), they are collected in used wood containers at recycling sites along with other wooden floors and discarded furniture. They are then taken to a processing plant for used wood where a complex process is undertaken to break them up. This produces wood chips which are either sold directly to CHP plants or are further processed by wood-processing companies to produce chipboard.
Münster produces around 60 000 tons of residual and bulky waste a year. Five percent of this is used wood, from for example flooring, furniture and other wooden objects. If broken down this could all be returned to the economic cycle. In Münster, waste is sorted in a mechanical/biological residual waste plant. Most of the laminate floors and other used wood products are not reused but incinerated. The energy produced is a valuable commodity which is sold on to the regional energy suppliers. The whole process is well thought-out right down to the last detail and dovetails into a vast market, which functions along market-based principles just like any other.
Laminate flooring and other used woods make up part of this market, but unlike many other materials they represent a very environmentally-friendly element as they are made from natural wood. Compared with other floorings, they score well in terms of eco credentials.