Recycle Your Old Linoleum

Linoleum flooring lasts decades and can be safely composted or burned for energy at the end of its life.

Linoleum was invented by English rubber manufacturer Frederick Walton in 1861. From 1900 to 1950, it was extremely popular and could be found in almost every home in the U.S. But, after 1950, its popularity plummeted as more cost-effective, resilient flooring, such as vinyl tile, was invented. But, recently, with the rise of the green movement, linoleum is making a comeback. It should be noted, however, that linoleum is no longer manufactured in the U.S., with Armstrong dropping off as the last domestic manufacturer in 1947.

If you're getting rid of your old linoleum, don't trash it-- recycle! Believe it or not, linoleum is safe to burn or can even be composted when it's no longer useful.

Invented in 1861 by English rubber manufacturer Frederick Walton, linoleum enjoyed popularity in American homes from 1900 to 1950. The floor last anywhere between 25 to 40 years-- so if you've got linoleum, it's probably time for a change, as the last domestic linoleum manufacturer closed in 1947.

The word linoleum actually comes from Latin: linum, for linseed, and oleum, or oil. Linoleum is made mostly of linseed oil, combined with other natural ingredients like resins, limestone, powdered cork, wood powder, mineral pigments, and jute fabric. The creation process is relatively simple: the linseed oil and resins are combined to make cement, which is then added to the limestone, cork, and other ingredients. The mixture is rolled onto a jute backing, where it cures for two to three weeks before factory finishes are applied to the material.

If your linoleum floor has come to the end of its life and you're replacing it, you have several options, such as composting, taking it to a waste-to-energy incinerator, or having a junk removal service haul it to a building supply recycler for reuse. According to 1-800 recycling,

  • Linoleum can be composted because it naturally decomposes. It is fully biodegradable and does not release harmful substances or gases such as chlorine and dioxins. There are even some pilot projects in the country that collect linoleum for composting.

  • 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. Furthermore, the production of linoleum is a closed-loop system. This means that the energy obtained from incinerating linoleum is roughly equivalent to the energy it takes to produce it.

  • The manufacturing of linoleum is extremely efficient, and any scraps that are produced are fed right back into the manufacturing process. Post-consumer linoleum products can be taken to building supply recycling centers to be resold. Reusing old linoleum flooring for various home projects or crafts is a fun way to dispose of linoleum in an environmentally responsible way.

However, when you're dealing with linoleum, make sure you bear a few things in mind:

If you're recycling your linoleum, the first thing you should do is make sure that it's actual linoleum and not vinyl. Where linoleum is made of all-natural materials, vinyl is synthetically made out of chlorinated petrochemicals. It's not biodegradable, and will release harmful toxins if incinerated.

A simple test to see whether your floor is vinyl or linoleum is best performed with a bucket of water on hand after your floor has been pulled up. Drop a lit match onto the discarded flooring: vinyl will melt, whereas linoleum won't.

Also look out for asbestos-- some of the sealants used to glue linoleum down contained the substance. When in doubt, have your linoleum tested. If it does contain asbestos, have the flooring professional removed and cleaned of adhesive before you compost it or have a junk removal service drop it off for incineration. This is as much for your protection as everyone else's: there are a number of regulations associated with recycling linoleum flooring that was sealed with asbestos. Likely, it's in your best interests to have a professional remove your linoleum flooring-- after all, better safe than sorry.

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