March 13, 2014
The Raw Materials of the Linoleum Flooring Life Cycle
Linoleum is commonly known as the earth-friendly flooring material that was popular during the early 1900s to 1950s (“What is in Linoleum”). Although the life cycle of linoleum includes its raw materials along with its energy input and waste output, I would like to focus on the materials that go into the making, processing, and disposal of linoleum. It is important to first briefly delve into the history of the materials and processes that preceded the invention of linoleum to get a better understanding of why and how the materials came to be used. Jane Powell, author of Linoleum, explained that in 1763 a man named Nathan Smith filled a patent for oilcloth flooring and described his process as a mixture of resin, tar, Spanish Brown, beeswax, and linseed oil attached as a coating to woven material by applying it at a high temperature. The result was an unattractive, very easy to clean floor (19). However, oilcloths became popular despite being expensive, smelly, sticky in the summer heat, and easily worn down (20). Its disadvantages could not be overlooked for long and the British soon began to experiment with new imported raw materials such as cork and India rubber around the early 1800s. This need for experimenting paved the road for the invention of linoleum (21).
In 1855, twenty-one year old Frederick Walton began to experiment with raw linseed oil. Walton made various attempts until he finally decided to try heating the linseed oil with other substances such as lead acetate and zinc sulfate (Powell 22). This made the linseed oil form a resinous mass into which lengths of cheap cotton fabric were dipped until a thick coating formed. This coating was then scraped off and boiled again with benzene to form a liquid known as linseed oil varnish. Frederick Walton originally wanted to sell this varnish mixture to producers of water repellent fabrics, but he wasn’t very successful since it took months to produce enough resin and the linseed oil made the product extremely flammable (Powell 21). Thus, Walton began to add sawdust and cork dust to the mixture and, by 1861, invented what is now known as linoleum (“What is in Linoleum”). It is purely coincidental that the Armstrong Cork Company, later to become a prominent linoleum manufacturer, was founded in the same year (Eastman 136). By 1863, Walton patented linoleum by describing his material as a mixture of oxidized oil, cork dust, and gum or resin. Walton set up a linoleum factory in 1864 called the Linoleum Manufacturing Company and unfortunately ran it at a loss for five years before gaining a profit since linoleum faced fierce competition from oilcloth manufacturers (Powell 23).
Frederick Walton got the recipe for linoleum right the first time since the ingredients have essentially remained the same. The only change in the process was that machine power took over most of the labor. Linoleum is created with six main ingredients: linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour, cork dust, calcium carbonate, and natural pigments (“What is in Linoleum”). The process of manufacturing linoleum begins with the oxidation of linseed oil. Originally, linseed oil was oxidized in high roofed sheds. Large sheets of scrim cloth were then hung from the top of a drying room and were poured with a mixture of oil and driers so that it would air-oxidize successively until a one-inch layer was formed. This used to take several months, but has now been reduced to several days (Eastman 135). Today oxidized linseed oil and resins are heated and mixed together to produce linoleum cement, a sticky paste that is extruded, mixed with pine resin and wood flour to form sheets of linoleum, cooled, cut into manageable pieces, and then stored for two months in iron boxes that are dusted with chalk (Powell 22; “What is Linoleum”). Afterwards, the cement is combined with cork dust, calcium carbonate, and mineral pigments in a series of mixers and extruders at a mill. The mixture is then compressed with burlap or jute backing between two cylinders in a process called calendaring (Powell 22; “What is in Linoleum”). The resulting sheets of linoleum are festooned in a seasoning room, which is a heated room where the oxidation of the linseed oil continues for a few months, to let the floor cure in order to allow the linoleum to truly become one with the backing (Powell 22).
Linseed oil is the primary ingredient for the creation of linoleum. It is a clear to yellowish oil derived by pressing the seeds from the flax plant and is the source of what gives linoleum its antimicrobial qualities (Gromicko). Linseed oil has been produced in the United States since 1793. Each bushel of flaxseed grown in the U.S. produces about 20 pounds of linseed oil through a continuous process of solvent extraction (Eastman 135). In the production of linoleum, it is required for the linseed oil to oxidize before it can be used by exposing it to the air and letting it harden into a tough, rubberlike substance (Armstrong Cork Company 7). The oxidation process never actually stops. That is why linoleum becomes more brittle as the linseed oil continues to oxidize, especially if there is a high ratio of wood flour or cork dust to linseed oil (Gromicko).
Wood flour is basically finely pulverized wood that serves as a filler and body component for linoleum floors. It is used to bond pigments and ensure a smooth floor surface (Gromicko). According to technologist L. H. Reineke from the Forest Products Laboratory of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, several types of grinders are used to produce wood flour from selected dry wood residue. Both the single or double attrition mill and the steel burr roller mill produces wood flour through abrasion. However, the steel burr roller mill grinds up wood between a series of burrs and is therefore useless for creating fine wood particles. The flour is then sized by mechanical or air screening methods to sort out the big particles from the small. Reineke continues to explain that the ideal wood for wood flour comes from hemlock, spruce, aspen, and white pines including the eastern, western, and sugar pine. To be used as a filler in linoleum, the wood particles have to be absorptive, meet the specific particle size, be from the list of suitable tree species, have a reasonable amount of resin in it, and be a certain color. The production of wood flour is mainly done in the East near large centers of consumption where wood is cut or abraded and in areas where the right scrap wood is available (1). Reineke further delves into the topic of wood flour by explaining that the amount of natural resin in the wood influences the proportions of the other materials it is mixed with for the process of making linoleum. This is so because variations in resin content occurs within species and will appear in the product (3). Although the cheapest raw material source of wood flour is the residue of other wood processing industries, it isn’t enough to fulfill the demand of wood flour. In addition, the residue is not always from the required species of trees. Therefore the majority of wood flour is obtained through attrition, impact fragmentation, and crushing of wood (Reineke 4).
Commercial cork is another principal ingredient for the creation of linoleum that is obtained from the outer bark of the cork oak. The cork oak, scientifically referred to as Quercus suber, is an evergreen tree of the Fagaceae family. It is native to the western Meditteranean region. In fact, seventy percent of the world’s commercial cork comes from Portugal alone (Seth 370). M. K. Seth, author of the journal “Trees and Their Economic Importance” from the Botanical Review, described cork as “nothing more than thin-walled but strong cellulosic cell walls” that are coated with a water-resistant substance called suberin. The cell lumens make up fifty-seven percent of the cork’s volume and are filled with air making cork very light with a specific gravity of 15-.25 (370). Those innumerable cells form an air cushion in linoleum that yield to whatever pressure is exerted on it (Armstrong Cork Company 8). Cork also has many other properties that make it an ideal ingredient for linoleum flooring. Cork is buoyant, resilient, odorless, impervious to water, slow to catch on fire, and highly compressible. Not to mention an excellent insulator, a nonconductor of electricity, and is great at absorbing sounds and vibrations (Seth 370).
Pine rosin is another essential ingredient for the creation of linoleum floors since it serves as a bonding agent that provides strength and flexibility (Gromicko). Pine rosin is created from the resin of pine trees, which is melted down after extraction. Melted resin, according to M.K. Seth’s scholarly article “Trees and Their Economic Importance” creates a form of oil varnish when combined with linseed oil. “Trees and Their Economic Importance” delves deeper into the process of which resin is extracted:
Resins tend to lessen the amount of water lost from the tissues of plants. Because of their antiseptic properties, resins prevent decay and… add strength and durability. Resin is secreted in plant tissues in specialized canals or cavities called ‘resin ducts,’ which are lined with a special layer of secretory cells, called ‘epithelial layer,’ that secrete resin into the cavity through a thin cuticular layer. Resin ducts may be present in leaves, wood, and bark of stems. They normally ooze out through the bark and harden on exposure to air. Commercial resins, however, are extracted from artificial wounds, or fossil materials (357).
Finally, the last ingredients in linoleum flooring are natural pigments and calcium carbonate fillers. All of my sources did not go into detail of where exactly the natural pigments come from, but I will assume that, since all of my sources said they were “natural,” they are made from natural ingredients such as ground up coal for black and dried plants and unripe berries for green. The calcium carbonate used in linoleum floors is also known as limestone powder. According to The University of York’s article “Calcium Carbonate,” calcium carbonate is a compound of calcium, carbon, and oxygen. Forms of calcium carbonate can be found in limestone, chalk, and dolomite, which is a mixture of calcium and magnesium carbonates. For the purpose of linoleum, limestone is excavated and the processed rock becomes the limestone powder filler that is needed to achieve the specific density required for flooring (Gromicko).
The burlap backing upon which the finished linoleum sheets are laid upon is created from jute fibers that were extracted from the bark of the white jute plant (“Jute”). Jute is a long, soft fiber with a golden and silky shine. It provides strength and dimensional stability in linoleum flooring (Gromicko). Grown primarily in India and Bangladesh, Jute is an annual, rain-fed crop that thrives in tropical lowland areas and has little to no need for fertilizers and pesticides. When jute is harvested, the stems are soaked in tanks of water to rot the soft bark. Then the stems are beaten against the surface of the water in order to loosen the fiber. Once the fibers are dry, they are pressed into bales for shipment (“Jute”). The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations states that jute fibers are one hundred percent biodegradable and recyclable and do not emit toxic gases when burnt.
To install linoleum floors, according to Armstrong Cork Company’s book Armstrong's Linoleum Floors: Complete Description and Detailed Specifications for the Use of Architects, Interior Decorators, and Builders, the wood or concrete base must be prepared. Wood floors have to be sanded to a smooth and level finish while concrete floors have to be completely dry and solid. All locations in which linoleum will be laid have to be maintained at a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit while the process of laying linoleum is conducted. Meanwhile the linoleum contractor has to furnish the felt and then furnish the linoleum paste and cement. To lay down felt, the felt needs to be cut to suitable lengths and the back and base need to be coated with linoleum paste. Then the felt is laid down onto the backing and rolled over with a 150 pound iron roller (19). Afterwards, to lay the linoleum, the linoleum must be fitted to the walls and around projections such as pipes. Next paste is applied to the felt and the linoleum is laid where it is then rolled with the 150 pound iron roller. A sharp knife is used to cut the seams in order to make everything evenly fitted. If for any reason wet cement for sealing the joints comes into contact with the surface of linoleum, alcohol is used immediately to wipe it off. The final step is to leave bricks, sandbags, or other weights on top of the floor so that everything dries leveled (20). Overtime, linoleum installed over concrete may experience moisture problems. This means that the linoleum floor may separate from its jute backing or feel “spongy” or uneven. Also, for wooden subfloors, expansion and contraction may occur which can also make linoleum floors feel uneven (Gromicko).
Maintaining linoleum floors is easy since all it really needs is some daily sweeping or vacuuming. According to Nick Gromicko’s online article “Linoleum Inspection,” linoleum floors can be mopped with a damp mop, a small amount of water, and a bit of neutral pH soap just as long as the liquid is quickly removed. He states to never use bleach, high alkali cleaners, ammonia, or scouring powders since bleach lightens the surface color, alkali softens linseed oil, ammonia has a high pH, and scouring powders abrade the surface. The Armstrong Cork Company, in addition, recommends to occasionally go over linoleum with a good floor wax to keep the floor polished. Johnson’s Prepared Wax and the Old English Wax were perfect for the job back in the day. Yet most people had the option of creating their own homemade wax by slowly heating and dissolving beeswax and turpentine in equal parts by weight (28). To make sure the castors of heavy furniture did not cut into the linoleum, glass, metal, or plastic slides were installed beneath the furniture legs. Humidifiers were also used to keep an ambient relative humidity of about 50-60% in order to prevent the linoleum flooring and its components from drying during the summer heat (Gromicko; Armstrong Cork Company 28).
One of the greatest benefits of linoleum flooring is that the removal and disposal is easy and environmental friendly. To remove the linoleum, a corner is loosened until it is able to be pulled away from the felt base. The felt left on the floor is then removed by pouring hot water over it and then scraped off (Armstrong Cork Company 29). Linoleum flooring decomposes well in landfill sites since all of its ingredients are biodegradable. In addition, it does not release harmful gases or toxins as it breaks down. If the owner would like to recycle the flooring instead, there are linoleum recycling facilities throughout the U.S. that make it possible (“What is Linoleum”).
As far as raw materials go, the linoleum flooring life cycle stops here. Remember that the essential steps in producing linoleum can be summarized into six main steps: oxidizing linseed oil, manufacturing linoleum cement, mixing linseed oil with ground cork, adding wood flour along with pigments and filler to the mixture, applying it to a backing, curing the sheeted material, and finally trimming the floor to the correct width (Eastman 135). Frederick Walton knew what he was doing when he first invented linoleum in 1861 when oilcloth flooring dominated the market. His recipe has been virtually unchanged. Its natural ingredients has made linoleum an icon for environmental-friendly floor material and has currently been regaining popularity for homes since the green movement started in the 1990s. Perhaps, you already have it installed in your home.
Armstrong Cork Company. Armstrong's Linoleum Floors: Complete Description and Detailed Specifications for the Use of Architects, Interior Decorators, and Builders. Lancaster, PA: Armstrong Cork, Linoleum Dept., 1918. Print.
"Calcium Carbonate." Calcium Carbonate. The University of York, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/chemicals/calcium-carbonate.html>.
Eastman, Whitney. "Uses of the Products of the Flax Plant." The History of the Linseed Oil Industry in the United States. Minneapolis: T.S. Denison, 1968. 129-37. Print.
Gromiko, Nick. "Linoleum Inspection." InterNACHI. InterNACHI, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://www.nachi.org/linoleum-inspection.htm>.
"Jute." Future Fibres:. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <http://www.fao.org/economic/futurefibres/fibres/jute/en/>.
Powell, Jane. Linoleum. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2003. Print.
Reineke, L. H. "U. S. Forest Service Research Note." Wood Flour FPL.0113 (1966): 1-13. Forest Products Laboratory. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplrn/fplrn113.pdf>.
Seth, M. K. "Trees and Their Economic Importance." The Botanical Review 69.4 (2003): 321-76. Print.
"What Is Linoleum?" Flaxcouncil.ca. Flax Council of Canada, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <http://www.flaxcouncil.ca/english/index.jsp?p=industrial3&mp=industrial>.
"What Is in Linoleum and How Is It Made?" Armstrong.com. AWI Licensing Company, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <http://www.armstrong.com/commflooringna/what-is-linoleum.html>.
Professor Cristina Cogdell
13 March 2014
Linoleum Life Cycle: Embodied Energy
It is durable, sustainable, and beautifully made; sometimes, you will probably not even notice it beneath your feet. Linoleum is a popular type of flooring that has been around since 1861. It still remains to be the favorite flooring of households, schools, and hospitals alike for its complex characteristics, such as its capacity to inhibit the growth of bacteria. It should not be mistaken for its close counterpart, vinyl, which is significantly less organic (Lefever). Linoleum picked up popularity once again in the 1990s because its natural, raw ingredients are well suited to the “green” movement on the rise at this time (“What Is in Linoleum and How Is It Made?”). With the growing concern for sustainability and being “green,” more and more consumers, as well as designers, are rethinking the way we see everyday products. A product may be cheap, but what are you really paying for? Consumers do not always think past what the price tag and what the quality indicates, despite the raising awareness about environmental deterioration. Energy used during a product’s life cycle such as the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, and waste management are all crucially important to be aware of to fully pursue sustainability.
Interwoven in this life cycle is embodied energy, present at every step of the process from the fields at cultivation and the landfill for disposal. Embodied energy is defined as “the total energy inputs consumed throughout a product’s life-cycle” (“Embodied Energy of Building Materials”). This method of measurement makes it fairly easy to determine sustainability and cost of production—information that often escapes the mind of consumers. In this research paper, I will break down the process of production, distribution, and disposal of linoleum with a focus on the energy that is used in each stage. Hopefully with this information, we may educate consumers about the products we so easily take for granted.
Linoleum is generally made from raw natural materials, which means it expends a lot less energy than carpet (8 to 45MJ/FT2) or ceramic tiles (3 to 24 MJ/FT2). Linoleum only uses about 5 to 11 MJ/FT2 of embodied energy throughout its extraction and manufacturing. The ingredients are pressed down to make a long, thin, sheet to be adhered to hard floors. Based on Forbo products (Forbo is one of the largest distributers of linoleum), linoleum constituents have been measured as a mass fraction and mass per applied area. After each ingredient, I will indicate both in this order. Linseed oil takes up about 20% of the final product, with 588g/m2 for mass per applied area. Tall oil makes up 13% with 398 g/m2 . Pine rosin makes up 3%, with a mass of 76 g/m2. Limestone is a fraction of 20% with 592 g/m2. Wood flour is 31% of the product with 901 g/m2. Pigment is about 4%, with 101 g/m2 of mass per area. Jute, which is applied as backing, makes up 8% with 233 g/m2. Lastly, acrylic lacquer is applied at 1%, and 12 g/m2 in the final product (“Forbo Linoleum.”).
We begin the production of linoleum with the cultivation of the flax plant, the main ingredient, and from there we can harvest linseed. Due to the lack of information, the following numbers are actually modified from wheat harvesting. To cultivate the flax, we assume that a tractor is used; it requires fossil fuel of about 0.61 MJ (0.17 kWh) of diesel is consumed per kg (263 Btu/lb) of linseed harvested, which yields 1 038 kg per hectare (420 lb per acre) (“Forbo Linoleum.”). Human labor can sometimes be used to harvest linseed or flax to receive specific results. For longer fibers that are not cut by a large tractor, but rather is pulled from the roots, then human labor is ideal.
According to “Forbo Linoleum,” The production of each unit of Marmoleum [Forbo’s brand name for linoleum] (0.09 m2 or 1 ft2 ) requires 0.45 MJ (0.13 kWh) of electricity and 1.8 MJ (0.5 kWh) of natural gas. The manufacturing process I have research is largely based on a video Forbo Flooring released about their manufacturing process (“Forbo Flooring Systems Linoleum Production 2008”). Unfortunately, much of the energy inputs were not stated for each stage.
At every stage, manual labor is required to operate machinery and even transport materials from one are to another, in addition to the electricity as a constant source of energy throughout the manufacturing process. Once linseed is harvested, it is taken to be pressed to get linseed oil, one of the most important ingredients. This is achieved through what is assumed to be a series of mechanical processes, as it was not explicitly stated in the video. The oil is then mixed with natural rosin harvested and provided by certified wood plantations. Using mechanical and thermal energy, the substances are mixed and heated in large vats. Heating and oxidization forms a mixture that is the basis for making linoleum. After 24 hours of further oxidization, it becomes a homogenous mixture called linoleum cement. This cement is then transferred into measured vats that are covered in white chalk, so the mixture does no stick to the surface. The operator then uses a forklift to transfer the vats to be stored for a week-long oxidization process until it reaches the desired quality.
In the meantime, Forbo has several other departments that contribute to the Marmoleum-making process. Marmoleum is Forbo’s brand name for linoleum. On site, they have their own laboratory with scientists and machinery to properly check every single raw material that comes in to make sure that each ingredient is up to standard. In another department, Forbo designers match colors and connections of sample linoleum of more than 300 different designs and structures. Before any color is added, however, a sample must be made in another factory to show how the final product will look like.
After a week, the linoleum cement is finally ready for the rest of the process. To make the cement dry, ground limestone is added, followed by wood flour. Next, natural pigments are mixed to create a beautiful deep, warm color. The mixture comes out to look like colored granules, and they ride the conveyor belt to the production area of the factory. Granules are carefully mixed together, mindful of the proper ratios for each color, and are placed in a large funnel, while mixing the colors further.
Jute is another natural material that serves as a base for linoleum. With 3000 meters wound in a large roll, the jute slowly unravels as it progresses to the calendar rolling mill. Behind this rolling mill, the granules fall. Due to the high pressure of the rolling mill (that varies throughout the process), a linoleum sheet comes out with colorful stripes as the result of the granules stretching under the weight. The edges are cut in waves to make sure that the linoleum is evenly spread. The linoleum sheet travels under yet another, larger, heavier rolling mill; this time, it is to create the marble-like structure.
Next, the sheets are stored in drying rooms directly located behind the mills. The room is about 20 x 50 meters that can fit 36,000 meters of Marmoleum. In here, the sheets are hung to dry for 2 to 3 weeks. The sheets undergo rigorous quality checks: there must be no imprints; the surface must have the proper resistance; the color fasteners must be correct; finally, wear resistance must meet strict standards.
After three weeks, the Marmoleum is taken out of the drying room for final processing. 18 kilometers of linoleum undergoes a constant process on cutting lines. Next, water-based lacquer finish is applied to the front surface before the final cut. The sheets are checked once again before the 32-meter long linoleum is rolled up to be packaged and coded. From the production line, the rolls are placed in a store room with a unique location, each color and design readily available for supply. From there, they are ready to be shipped worldwide.
Using Forbo Flooring as an example for transportation and distribution, on their site they claim to use “shipping, rail and road transport, including low emission trucks” (“Life Cycle Assessment.”). As a worldwide distributer, they must receive orders from all around the world, meaning a constant use of fossil fuel for transportation. The following is measured in megajoules per ton of material shipped per mile. Coastal and ocean shipping both use diesel: 0.39 MJ/ton-mile for the former and .23MJ/ton-mile for the latter. Going by rail, they can either be electric or diesel-fueled, which would mean electricity as a secondary energy source, which derives its energy from coal. For diesel-fueled trains, its embodied energy is .037MJ/ton-mile. Despite what can be predicted as extensive fuel use, these three forms of transportation are the most efficient. An aircraft has an embodied energy of 9.49MJ/ton-mile and is followed by a 15-ton truck, then a 35-ton truck (“Embodied Energy of Building Materials.”). Low-emission trucks are expected to have greater efficiency with 20% fuel savings (“Low-emission Energy”).
The installation of linoleum is typically done manually. Because the material is tougher than the similar material, vinyl, it requires extra strength and training with special tools to ensure a perfect finish. Some positive characteristics of linoleum: water resistant, heat- and sound- insulating, durable and flexible, and can imitate other flooring materials. (“Linoleum: Characteristics, Uses And Problems”).
Linoleum can last for decades (20-30 years) before it needs to be disposed. It is typically used in kitchens, hallways, and bathrooms for household flooring and in schools, hospitals, and showrooms for institutional flooring. It was “originally installed over a wood subflooring. Later, a layer of felt was sandwiched in between” (“Linoleum: Characteristics, Uses And Problems”).
Some problems that may arise with linoleum include chemical corrosion as time passes and the linseed oil continues to oxidize that can result in a brittle material. The color can change because linseed tends to darken over time. If the linoleum is heavily used, there may be scrapes and scratches from walking or from furniture. Water damage can also ruin the backing and may separate from the linoleum itself. Cleaning agents introduced to linoleum softens the linseed oil and destroy the cork inside, which will result in small craters in the linoleum (“Linoleum: Characteristics, Uses And Problems”).
Because linoleum is made mostly of natural ingredients, it can be easily composted. Typically linoleum that is no longer used is sent to the landfill to harmlessly biodegrade; it will not release harmful gases and toxins as it breaks down. Another option is incineration which uses thermal heat to break down the material quicker and generate energy from this process. Surprisingly, once burned it leaves a calorie residue of 18.6 Mj/kg, which is similar to that of coal. The energy obtained from incineration is actually enough to power the entire process of making linoleum, which makes it a closed-loop production (“Recycle Your Old Linoleum”).
Being able to create a product from natural materials and then placing it back seamlessly is the ultimate meaning of sustainability. To top it all, linoleum is a durable product that can last decades. It’s perfect for schools and hospitals because of its bacteriostatic quality. With all the mounting concern for our environment, it is no wonder people turn to linoleum as their choice of flooring. It is made with natural raw materials, long-lasting, and biodegradable. In addition to this, we must also be concerned with the processes that happen behind closed doors—the less glamorous aspect of the product: how it is made. It is important to understand that as a consumer, you are not only paying for the product, but all the energy and labor that were expended to make this product exist. Sustainability is deeper than just the materials; it is also about the production processes and working to make it as energy efficient as the product.
"Embodied Energy of Building Materials." Material Life. Cannon Design, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <http://media.cannondesign.com/uploads/files/MaterialLife-9-6.pdf>.
"Forbo Flooring Systems Linoleum Production 2008." YouTube. YouTube, 06 Dec. 2012. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STu33sT7hVo>.
"Forbo Linoleum." National Institute of Standards and Technology. U.S. Department of Commerce, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. <http://ws680.nist.gov/bees/ProductListFiles/Forbo%20Linoleum.pdf>.
Lefever, Kim. "Linoleum vs. Vinyl Flooring." Armstrongs The Floor Board Blog RSS. Armstrong, 23 Aug. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://www.armstrong.com/flooring-blog/2013/08/23/linoleum-vs-vinyl-flooring/>.
"Life Cycle Assessment." 150 Years Linoleum. Forbo Magazines, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://linoleum150.forbomagazines.com/m/magstream/forbo/linoleum150/#!10-Life-Cycle-Assessment>.
"Linoleum: Characteristics, Uses And Problems." Linoleum: Characteristics, Uses And Problems. U.S. General Services Administration, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2014. <http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/113614>.
"Low-emission Energy Supplies at Truck Stops." BINE Information Servie. BINE, Feb. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2014. <http://www.bine.info/en/publications/publikation/emissionsarme-energieversorgung-auf-dem-rastplatz/>.
"Recycle Your Old Linoleum." Ecycle Environmental. Ecycle Environmental, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2014. <http://www.ecycleenvironmental.com/recycling-blog/recycle-your-old-linoleum>.
"What Is in Linoleum and How Is It Made?" What Is Linoleum. AWI Licensing Company, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2014. <http://www.armstrong.com/commflooringna/what-is-linoleum.html>.
March 13, 2014
Linoleum: Wastes & Emissions
Linoleum is a material that is capable of imitating a variety of natural surfaces for low prices, making it a popular choice for flooring. For a material with the sole purpose of forgery, linoleum's production process is surprisingly sustainable. Linoleum is comprised of raw materials that have hardly been processed, if not at all. 36% of linoleum's entirety is made of rapidly renewable materials and 35% are recycled materials (“What is...”). One of linoleum's raw materials, linseed oil, is currently regarded as an infinite oil resource in Canada because it flourishes as an annual crop there. Because of these statistics, linoleum is praised as the ultimate sustainable flooring of the future, even though its chemical composition was discovered in 1861 and has not changed much over the years. Although the percentages are impressive for a flooring material that is so often assumed to be composed of deadly chemicals, which may be the case with vinyl linoleum (which will not be studied in this paper), even more impressive yet is the waste component of linoleum’s life cycle. Linoleum's life cycle is very close to achieving the cradle to cradle theory, which is very uncommon for flooring materials that are commonly used in contemporary settings. Although the raw natural materials cannot be reused in their original form once mixed together to create the linoleum sheets, the sheets can be reused, either in factories for re-production or for consumers, incinerated for energy, or decomposed in a compost. However, linoleum flooring, in both its consumer form and decomposing in its post-consumer form, emits gases, though not toxic, which cannot be overlooked.
An important aspect of the output function of the life cycle of linoleum is its disposal. There are several options for disposal and recycling of old linoleum: composting, burning for energy, reusing parts, and, least environmentally, putting it in a landfill. The flooring “lasts anywhere between 25-40 years” which may not make it as long-lasting as other more natural options, like wood flooring which can last for much longer with the proper care, but at least when it has finished its lifecycle it can be utilized for new linoleum (“Recycle...”). The process of linoleum becoming post-consumer waste begins as the linseed oil ingredient of the linoleum begins to oxidize. As oxidation of the linseed oil increases with age, the linoleum becomes brittle to the point of chipping. Also, due to the vulnerability of linoleum to ultra-violet rays and to linseed oil's quality of turning darker over time, the hue and value of the linoleum floor may be altered from its original state and the changes may not be uniform throughout the linoleum flooring installation.
Only linoleum made out of natural raw materials can be recycled. There are some flooring types that are called linoleum but are actually made of synthetic chemicals, like vinyl which consists of chlorinated petrochemicals. Unlike the natural raw materials that make up authentic linoleum, the materials in vinyl linoleum are “not biodegradable and will release harmful toxins if incinerated” (“Recycle...”). Composting is a viable option for disposing of old linoleum but there are several factors to determine if the linoleum is ready to be decomposed without releasing any toxins into the environment. Many sealants used to glue the layers of the linoleum flooring contain asbestos. Ensuring that the linoleum composts healthily is an entire disposal process by itself, which involves chemical removers and the toxic waste leftover from the linoleum's sealant. The sealant must be removed from the linoleum with water and citrus-based mastic removers with the worker wearing a strong mask to protect the mouth and nasal passages from the toxic and injurious asbestos fibers. The waste from the scrubbed off asbestos cannot be disposed of at a landfill or compost, but must be dropped off at a hazardous waste center. As it breaks down, the sealant-free linoleum will not release any harmful toxins or gases. There is a component of linoleum that has been studied for waste emissions. Jute is a vegetable fiber that is used attached as a backing to the linoleum right before the entire flooring is cured for 14 to 21 days in ovens. Although jute has been found by scientists to be biodegradable, and therefore carries the label of being good for the environment, it does release carbon dioxide as it decomposes. The amount of carbon dioxide that it produces lessens substantially from the zeroth day to the eighty-fifth day of decomposition in an aerobic incubator (Chander 346). Despite these findings from research, linoleum is still considered biodegradable because it does not release heavily toxic and lethal gases. The carbon dioxide that it produces is natural and therefore is still considered a part of natural decomposition. However these large doses of carbon dioxide contribute to what many scientists refer to as global warming. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that contributes to the climate change which is one effect of global warming.
Linoleum that is dumped in a landfill is not promoted because it is one of the few man-made flooring items that have been made entirely of natural materials which makes it biodegradable and therefore it is very wasteful to put it in the landfill instead of placing it in the compost where the jute backing has been found to increase decomposition of the other decomposing items in the compost.
Old linoleum can also be recycled for use in new linoleum sheets. Scraps can be fed back into the manufacturing system. Old linoleum can also be resold to recycling centers specifically for building supplies. This facilitates the reuse of the linoleum for flooring; usually the post-consumer flooring that is still in working condition is bought by the recycling centers and resold to consumers who want exceptionally low prices or to manufacturers who will feed the post-consumer linoleum back into the production process. Because linoleum is a physical mixture of many raw materials, it is not possible to separate each of the raw materials out of the linoleum, or at least in quantities that could be useful or profitable. The jute that is used to back linoleum sheets can be peeled off and reused but the sealant must be cleaned off while taking the precautionary measures if there is asbestos present in the sealant.
Incineration is another option for waste disposal. “When burned in a waste-to-energy incineration facility, linoleum products produce a residual caloric value comparable to that of coal, which means that you can produce about as much energy burning linoleum as you can by burning coal” (“Recycle...”). This would essentially make the waste of post-consumer linoleum highly valuable but unfortunately it takes the same amount of energy to burn the linoleum as the energy acquired by burning it. Although the incineration of linoleum is relatively clean in the sense that it does not emit toxic gases, it is not a useful way to obtain energy.
During the production and manufacturing of linoleum, which involves the mixing of linseed oil, resins, limestone, cork, wood powder, and mineral pigments, there is leftover dust and resins. These materials would be wastes if they had not been phased into the production process, as they add to the mixture's strength. Throwing them in a landfill or compost would not be as economically or environmentally beneficial as utilizing them for their manufacturing purposes at the mill where the linoleum concentration is mixed.
The linoleum life cycle has effects on the environment. Some of the effects on the environment occur as wastes during the transportation of raw materials. Research shows that when linseed oil, which is a large component of linoleum, spilled into a body of water during transportation to linoleum production mills, the “linseed oil penetrated rapidly into the sediments... The oil concentration remained unchanged for the first month after the spill, but 60% of the oil disappeared from the top 30 cm after a further month” (Pereira 520). The study found that although the linseed oil initially disturbed the environment's flora and aerobic processes, eventually aerobic oil-degrading bacteria diminished the wasted linseed oil. Although large amounts of linseed oil is detrimental to an unfamiliar ecosystem, it is possible to be effectively cleaned out by Nature which proves linseed oil to be an ecologically sensitive material.
Although linseed oil is anti-microbial which makes it a clean flooring choice for kitchens, it is also emits aldehydes. These emissions are mostly fragrant but some may heavily affect people with chemical sensitivities. It is because of this that children are advised to stay away from flooring that emits such gases. A study shows that linoleum, which contains resins at its surface, has long-chain aldehydes which are the source of odor emissions. “These aldehydes are classified as secondary pollutants to distinguish them from primary pollutants which are directly emitted from materials...” and are “usually lasting for several months” (Peng 2112). These emissions from the linoleum, although seemingly harmless are strong chemical gases that have caused sensory irritation in entire buildings of people, according to the study.
Another study was conducted, this time on indoor chemical pollutants emitted by linoleum and their reactions with ozone. The researchers found that “secondary emissions of hexanal... of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acetone from carpet and linoleum floorings were identified” (Nicolas 3130). These emissions, especially formaldehyde, can irritate bodily functions, like the respiratory system and mucous membranes like the eyes. These emissions are threatening to the health of linoleum consumers. In addition to the effects linoleum's emissions have on its consumers, which are continued to be studied as researchers are convinced the emissions have more adverse effects on human health, the emissions have also been found to be ozone-induced. This may be dangerous because “strong airway irritants are known to be formed by reactions of ozone with unsaturated compounds” (Nicolas 3130). An example of how linoleum's emissions may react with ozone to affect indoor air quality is the increase or decrease in odors, which may also an implication of an occurring reaction.
Emissions of linoleum don't affect only the consumers. There have been reports of jute workers having health issues due to the working environment of being exposed to so much jute on a daily basis. Jute is the natural fiber material that is used as a backing to linoleum sheets. The particle emissions of this raw material have affected countless jute workers. Airborne dust particles irritate the workers' respiratory systems. Researchers recorded workers have the symptoms of cough, irritation of the throat, dryness and bleeding of the nose, tightness of the chest, headache, and eye irritation. These are all symptoms of an irritated respiratory system. The final research results shows that exposure to jute dust could be the cause of chronic respiratory problems in workers. This conclusion reveals that although linoleum may be slated to be biodegradable and a “green” choice, it is not always a good influence on the human workers who are gathering these fibers. They are inadvertently paying the true price of linoleum manufacturing that no linoleum company can repay.
A life case study on the life cycle of resilient floor coverings has found linoleum to have the highest global warming potential based on wastes. The researchers deemed the global warming potential to be determined by carbon dioxide emissions and methane emissions. This does match up with my findings from other research that has shown that as linoleum decomposes, it produces large amounts of carbon dioxide. The study also conducted research on municipal waste and chemical waste, comparing different flooring materials. Linoleum had the second to lowest amounts of municipal waste, only shortly behind cush polyvinyl chloride (Günther 79). This is not surprising as there is little to no waste during the production process, as even the scraps are reinserted into the mixing process. Also, linoleum flooring can be incinerated or composted cleanly since it is able to degrade back into the earth. The researchers also compared the chemical waste produced by different types of flooring. The results showed linoleum to have the least amount of chemical waste, because as linoleum is either decomposing in a landfill or compost or being incinerated, it does not emit toxic fumes that would otherwise contaminate the objects and entire area within proximity to the decomposition.
These findings have provided evidence that even items that are marketed as “green” products continue to deplete parts of the earth's resources. In the case of linoleum, it may use mostly renewable resources and can be reused and recycled, but its waste creates carbon dioxide and its products emit health-irritating aldehydes. All of these studies imply that there may be a disconnect between what is being marketed as green design and what is actually green design. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of the term “green” that has contributed to such trickery. In the case of linoleum, there are instances where although it is not toxic to the earth or to humans, there is substantial evidence that it is unhealthy to both the earth and its inhabitants, but these occurrences have only been quietly researched. The results from research pose questions about our society and who is responsible for the production and consumption that ultimately is detrimental. Although it is the fault of designers, marketing firms, and scientists for not fully informing consumers of the consequences of their consumption, perhaps it is the consumer's fault for not asking. After researching, I found that few linoleum companies and informational sites include derogatory side effects of linoleum's raw materials, production, and wastes on humans, but they do emphasize the “green” qualities of linoleum. This shows that contemporary consumers are concerned mostly with buying products that guarantee the safety of the planet because most of what is broadcasted encourages the assumption that only the earth is really affected by emissions, which as my research shows, is not the case. Every human's health is affected by the linoleum life cycle, whether or not every human on this planet is a consumer of linoleum flooring.
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