In spite of its frequency of use, the term “green” does not have a consistent definition. To some, a green product is one that contains recycled content. To others, it is one manufactured from sustainable materials. “Green” can also refer to products that do not outgas or pollute the air.

For now, many companies look for guidance to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit community of leaders working specifically to make green building accessible to everyone.

The USGBC created LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System. A company receives LEED credits for their use of recycled and sustainable materials including anti-fatigue and other matting used in their facility.

Recycling rubber and PVC
Rubber compounds have been utilizing recycled materials for many years. If, for example, a product is 100- percent natural rubber, it will still contain fillers to bind it together. Often those binders are comprised of recycled materials.

More recently, companies have mixed reground rubber into the compounds to reduce the percent of virgin compound, thus using materials otherwise headed to the landfill. The process can also strengthen the functionality of the product. Another benefit is that when the cost of oil is high, using reground rubber as filler can reduce the cost of the finished product. But if formulized or manufactured improperly, these products can have an unpleasant odor and their useful life can be compromised.

PVC is much easier than rubber to recycle and re-use. That, and its manufacturing versatility and relatively low cost, make PVC an extremely popular matting compound. Frequently used to create a blown vinyl sponge or an injection molded tile, PVC can be re-melted and reused up to six times before losing some of its original integrity. Based on the life expectancy of the actual manufactured products, PVC can have a very long and useful life.

Stay current with products and processes
One innovative product recently introduced is a tacky vinyl polymer material that can be used in contamination- control environments to replace throw-away tacky mats. Not only is it more effective, but this material reduces waste and overall cost.

You can expect more products like this to hit the market. As replacements for disposable versions, these semi-permanent products will offer the same or greater degree of functionality.

The development of new polymers and new recycling processes is a huge aspect of the overall green movement. The use of rapidly renewable bio materials poses interesting possibilities for the future.

Finding uses for materials heretofore not recyclable happens more frequently than ever. In fact, urethane, which is normally not recyclable, is now converted into new and extremely functional products. For example, urethane sponges can be ground into smaller parts and rebound, creating a new and equally comfortable sponge for use as a base for ergonomic matting.

In order for the matting industry — and all other industries — to continue to make strides in the search for sustainable materials, the development of collection systems for recycling post-consumer materials is key.

Changes are also needed in the way products are manufactured and the equipment used to manufacture them. Huge savings in electricity can be gained through upgrading equipment and/or changing processes to take advantage of new technologies. The way forward is to do things nature’s way — the clean and green way.