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Rubber Flooring | The Uncomfortable Truth

Questions are being asked about the environmental footprint of rubber flooring. It's time to get the facts.



We all know how natural latex is tapped and collected from rubber trees. And, this creates the perception that all rubber products are made from this natural ingredient but this couldn't be further from the truth. The vast majority of rubber products, including flooring, are synthetic and made using a highly industrialised process.


So, how is rubber made?

Synthetic rubber production begins with a hydrocarbon mixture, usually from oil or coal. This mixture is refined to produce naphtha - a flammable oil. The naphtha is combined with natural gas to create monomers, such as butadiene, styrene, isoprene, chloroprene, ethylene, and propylene. This substance is then polymerised using a catalyst and process steam, forming chains of polymers to create rubber. At this stage, the synthetic rubbers can be further vulcanised if needed.

Petroleum-Based

Synthetic rubber flooring is predominantly made from petroleum-based materials, such as styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) and ethylene-propylene-diene monomer (EPDM). The extraction and processing of crude oil to produce these materials release greenhouse gases and contribute to air pollution. This dependency on fossil fuels further perpetuates our reliance on non-renewable resources.


Energy-Intensive

The production of synthetic rubber flooring involves energy-intensive processes, including polymerisation, vulcanisation, and shaping. These processes require substantial amounts of electricity and contribute to carbon emissions. Additionally, the manufacturing process may involve the use of various chemicals, some of which can be harmful to human health and the environment if not handled properly.


Non-biodegradable & Single-Use

Synthetic rubber flooring is not biodegradable, meaning it does not break down naturally over time. It can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. And, while some recycling initiatives exist, the process of recycling synthetic rubber is complex and not as widespread as it should be.


High in Carbon

The carbon impacts (Global Warming Potential) of rubber flooring vary by product type but the oil-based raw materials and energy-intensive production processes elevate embodied carbon levels across the entire product category.

Product

GWP (Cradle to Grave)

2.0 mm rubber tiles & rolls

21.09 kg CO2e / m2

3.2 mm rubber tiles

25.23 kg CO2e / m2

3.5 mm rubber tiles

36.14 kg CO2e / m2

Individual product GWPs may vary. Consult with manufacturers for specific carbon values.

 

Sustainable Alternatives

The pathway to Net Zero construction is becoming more evident. This will require the rapid decarbonisation of processes and materials. One of the key milestones is a 68% reduction in construction-related carbon by 2030. It's been calculated that the floor finishes need to be below 7 kg CO2e / m2 to meet this target.


Flooring types derived from oil, like synthetic rubber, do not meet the requirements of low-carbon finishes. This is driving a transition to alternatives made from renewable, biogenic raw materials and recycled content. There is around 1,000,000 m2 of rubber flooring used in the UK annually so the environmental benefits of this switch are significant.


Bio Rubber

Bio Rubber is derived from plant oil, not crude oil and recycled content. It's a totally seamless finish which is ideally suited to busy commercial environments where looks and performance are essential and sustainability matters.

Carbon footprint (GWP): 1.87 kg CO2e / m2


Recycled Woven

Recycled Woven is a flooring innovation, made from recycled rubber and cork with a woven design (also made from recycled content). So, it takes rubber and re-presents it in a new form.


Other carbon-reducing materials that substitute for rubber flooring include:



 

Synthetic rubber flooring offers durability and versatility but its environmental downsides cannot be overlooked. Meeting carbon reduction targets necessitates a transition to a post-oil economy.


Let's be conscious of the materials we use in our built environment and strive to make choices that support the health of both people and the planet.

Yorumlar


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