A granite quarry in San Jose, Calif., struck an unusual business agreement with the Fireclay Tile factory next door. The quarry gives its rock dust to the tile company, which uses it to create its Debris series—a name that unabashedly markets the product’s 60% recycled content.
Small and large manufacturers all over the country have caught on to the trend of re-using discarded window glass, porcelain toilets, and leather seat scraps from nearby manufacturers, turning factory trash into high-end tile treasure.
“They didn’t know what to do with all the dust they were making,” says Fireclay spokesperson Teresa Cooney, “so the owner of Fireclay, Paul Burns, who is also a scientist, figured out how to incorporate this into a tile for a sustainable cause.”
Recycled bottles go into the glass mosaic tiles made by Hakatai, scraps from leather belts turn into EcoDomo leather tiles, and old soda cans make Alumillenium’s decorative metal tile backsplashes a novelty. These are just a few of the tile companies striking deals with local landfills and industrial plants to re-use and reduce waste.
“I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get a day where people want to unload their recycled bottles,” says Megan Coleman of Stardust Glass, which receives enough refuse from window and door factories near Portland, Ore., to manufacture glass tiles with recycled content as high as 97%.
Demand for recycled-content tile is on the rise because pros and homeowners who want sustainable interior tile find it looks the same (or even better) and behaves the same as traditional ceramic products.
“The level of recycled content is pretty important in terms of how we determine what materials we pick for our projects,” says San Francisco architect William Duff Jr. “[Recycled tile] has a much better story and everyone will feel better about it. In some instances, a recycled tile may be the right tile just from its look and feel.”
The recycled content ranges anywhere from 10% to 100%, and manufacturers offer a variety of materials, including glass, ceramic, aluminum, brass, wood, bamboo, porcelain, cork, and terrazzo. Some companies produce hundreds of color choices and glaze options.
“Any time you have an attractive product, it sells itself,” says Minneapolis architect Greg Kraus, “but then you can add in that component of saying, ‘This is a product that has a significant amount of recycled content in it.’” Kraus uses recycled products from Crossville, which recently carved out a place in its expansive line for the recycled-ceramic EcoCycle series.
“The product itself is at a good price point, but I think it helps to save cost in terms of manufacturing,” says Kraus.
But free dust, door glass, and debris do not necessarily lead to a lower-priced product. Says Duff, “some recycled tiles are going to be less expensive than a conventional tile and some are going to be more.”
Tucson, Ariz., interior designer Lori Carroll tells her clients the cost can range from 20% to 25% higher than its un-recycled counterpart.
The price is the same for traditional high-end porcelain tile as it is for Mosaic Tile’s Italy-imported recycled porcelain tile, says that company, and cost is comparable as long as you evaluate the recycled tile within its sphere of quality, material, and function.
FINDING A HOME
Thanks to the growing popularity of the green movement, recycled tile is on the rise from obscurity, finding a home on bathroom walls, kitchen countertops, and interior floors.
“It used to be the universe of green materials was fairly small,” says Duff, “but that’s growing larger and larger. Where we are today is a very different place than where we were five years ago; there are enough options available that you can pretty much achieve anything that you want.”
But like with all new products, questions linger. While Kraus says the recycled tile he uses has no maintenance, durability, or installation issues that are different than standard tile, Carroll raises the question of how long the sustainable product will last because its presence is fresh to the market.
Still, the future for recycled tile looks bright, according to pros and manufacturers, who predict a wider variety of styles to hit the market as more recycled-tile companies set up shop in the U.S.
This article originally appeared in Building Products magazine.