While at GreenBuild in October 2011, I had the opportunity to speak with Heidi Vassalotti, Architectural Sales Representative for Crossville Inc. regarding Crossville’s waste reduction efforts, sustainability efforts and new products containing recycled material.
First a little bit about porcelain tile: The difference between porcelain tiles and ceramic tiles is that porcelain tiles are fired at around 2200 F, whereas ceramic tiles are fired at around 1200 F. In truth, porcelain tiles are also part of the ceramic family, but they’ve been distinguished from ceramic tiles over the years because of the increased firing temperature and the way the raw material is processed. The material from which porcelain tile is made is a fine powdered dust derived from a mixture of minerals, clay and other materials. It is compressed and kiln-fired at around 2200 F. Because it’s fired at a higher temperature than ceramic, it is less porous, meaning that it is stain and water resistant and highly durable. It can also be used in exterior applications because it is frost resistant. Generally, when colour is added to porcelain tiles it is added to both the body and surface meaning that if it were ever to chip, it would be relatively unnoticeable. Ceramic tile, on the other hand, is more prone to chipping than porcelain tile, and often colour is only added to the surface layer, meaning that chips are noticeable. Porcelain tile is an excellent product for mudrooms, bathrooms and kitchens. It cleans easily and is incredibly durable with a 50+ year lifespan.
Over the past few years Crossville Tile has been tackling waste reduction in its manufacturing processes. Throughout the firing process there is a lot of waste by-product produced, including the residue waste that is the result of the firing, and tiles that are fired but either break during the process or don’t fire properly so they can’t be sold. In the past all of this material was bound for landfill. Now, however, it is being reused in the process of making new tiles. These tile lines are part of Crossville Tile’s Eco-Cycle porcelain tiles and contain 15-50% pre-consumer waste. As part of Crossville’s ongoing sustainability plan, incorporating this fired waste and filtrate material into its manufacturing processes prevents 12 million tons of waste from going to landfill every year.
But further to its finding a use for all of its own waste, Crossville has entered into an agreement with TOTO to take all of its products that didn’t survive the firing process to use as raw material. It means that now all of Crossville Tile’s porcelain lines contain 4% recycled waste. I know 4% doesn’t seem like a lot, but the results are actually significant. It’s the same kind of thinking as having all North Americans change out one incandescent light bulb for a CFL versus one or two of us becoming “No Impact Man.” In Crossville’s manufacturing processes, a little recycled matter is more significant across an entire system than one or two recycled lines out of 100 different products. (Note: this is not to say that either the efforts to create recycled product lines or “No Impact Man” aren’t worthwhile — they are, it’s rather to emphasize that a little recycled material across the board can make a big difference overall.)
Crossville Tile has also established a “Tile Take Back” program, whereby if you don’t want to see your old shower tiles end up in landfill, you can send them to Crossville and they’ll be crushed down into dust and reused in new tile manufacturing. Granted, this makes sense for commercial renovators more than individual home renovators, but you never know if some sort of co-op can’t be developed to handle this kind of program.
The result of these waste reduction efforts is that Crossville is now a net importer of waste products; it actually uses more waste than it produces in its manufacturing process. What this also means is that fewer natural resources are being used to produce its product lines — and not just one of its lines, but every single one.
In addition to its waste reduction efforts, Crossville Tile also tackled water use. Whereas water used to be used once and sent into the local city sewer system for treatment, a new system is now in place where water is 99.98% is reused. The final 0.02% that does leave their plant is treated before leaving while the leftover sludge that used to go to landfill is now a raw material for some of its tile lines.
Third Party Certification: In order to demonstrate that its recycling systems were as they claimed, they brought in Scientific Certification Systems, an independent third party, to audit its processes in manufacturing and water use. Under SCS’ Floor Score auditing arm, it also certified Crossville’s final products for Indoor Air Quality.
While Heidi was telling me about the waste reduction efforts at Crossville Tile, I wondered if it was possible for it to partner with municipalities for a similar program to its Tile Take Back program for old ceramic toilets, sinks and tubs. For instance, the city of Toronto used to have a toilet rebate system whereby if you replaced your old toilet with a more efficient model you’d get a rebate of $60-75 for new, water efficient toilets. It meant a lot of that porcelain was going into landfill. Heidi told me that yes, it would be possible, assuming they tested the older products for other materials such as lead and biohazardous waste. In the meantime Crossville has just ventured into a project with the city of Chicago which is renovating one of its municipal buildings. All of the old porcelain tile within the building is being shipped to Crossville’s factory, ground down into the raw dust material, and then being reused in new tiles to be put back into the renovated building. I love hearing stories about forward-thinking businesses and governments working together, it is so inspiring.
Crossville Tile also has a few product lines that include more than the standard 4% recycled material. At Greenbuild they launched three new lines containing higher recycled material content from 20-50%, called Mixology, Mainstreet and Bluestone. You can read about these products in this post. For more information on Crossville’s waste reduction efforts, here is a link to its sustainability brochure.