While the demand for green building continues to expand in both the commercial and residential building sectors, there is little availability of earth friendly Surface Protection products. For example, a green building may incorporate sustainable materials in all installed finishes but be protected by an adhesive film manufactured overseas and made from petroleum dependent plastics. A newly installed bamboo floor may be covered with a common wood floor protection manufactured entirely with man made materials.
Surface protection and dust containment are two vital methods to protect against expensive job site construction damage and to control indoor air quality. Development of new protection products utilizing recycled materials and products made for reuse are now gaining momentum. Building customers are asking suppliers about the environmental impact of the products they choose to purchase. Fortunately there are now suppliers focused on helping customers choose surface protection products manufactured with the lowest environmental impact. These products are generally made from; paper, cotton remnants and recycled plastics.
Surface protection made from recycled compressed paper or recycled corrugated cardboard has several common applications including floor, door, and counter top protection. Ram Board® is the most well known brand of rolled fiber board and is commonly used to protect floors and counter tops. It is manufactured using 100% reclaimed paper of which 90% is post-consumer material. Although it is marketed as reusable, most users report that that Ram Board® does not hold up well enough for reuse. DoorGuard(TM), the first door protector to market and the most well known, is manufactured with 99% recycled content cardboard. The DoorGuard(TM) is commonly reused several times per construction project and is fastened using natural rubber. It is frequently moved from the bottom floors of a high rise under construction to the upper floors as construction progresses. The DoorGuard(TM) and Ram Board® can both be recycled into new products.
Recycled cotton textiles are used in several types of rolled, reusable floor protection providing a soft layer of adsorbent protection that does not scratch floors. These products consist of two types; a breathable rolled product designed to let glue fumes release from newly installed floors and a plastic lined product that renders the protection waterproof. Both the breathable, unlined, cotton protection and the plastic lined, leak-proof product can be reused many times. Unfortunately however the plastic lined protection cannot be recycled without first removing the liner. Currently these products are manufactured and imported from Europe however similar products will soon be available from a US manufacturer.
The most common types of temporary surface protection and the least environmentally friendly are temporary adhesive films. These films are commonly manufactured in Asia from 100% virgin plastic and then imported to the US. Although these films have a low cost per square foot, they have recommended use times that range from 30 to 180 days and are by no means reusable. One bright spot for plastic protection however is in the recycling of plastic used in corrugated plastic sheets. These sheets protect floors, walls, outside windows and many other surfaces on large commercial construction projects. In the last several months, plastic sheets made with up to 30% pre-consumer plastic waste have become available and are manufactured in the US. The manufacturer will accept used sheets back in order to recycle them into new sheets.
The choice to use surface protection is in itself a positive step toward sustainability. Protecting tubs, floors, doors and other finishes lessen the odds that they will require repairs using toxic compounds or worse yet, that they are beyond salvage and end up in a landfill. This unfavorable result hurts both the environmental and the builders’ profits. Hopefully the trend toward sustainable surface protection will continue to move forward quickly in the future as the choices and popularity of green finishes grows.