Moves to increase the recyclability of laminate flooring are taking steps forward thanks to a Unilin pilot plant operating as part of a European project.

Unilin, the European Panel Federation, the Contract Flooring Association and the European Floor Coverings Association are among the 19-strong H2020 European project CISUFLO (CIrcular Sustainable Floor coverings) that is aiming to transition to a sustainable circular flooring sector.

Key in the process is development of recycling technologies that recycle laminate products, whose base material is wood fibreboard, into new similar flooring products.

Laminate flooring and all MDF/HDF containing products are in general classed in the hard to recycle category and therefore face landfill or incineration at the end of life. 

Unilin is continuing with its pilot plant activities based on a steam explosion process. This allows the extraction of valuable wood fibres from MDF/HDF containing products. These fibres are then prepared for reuse and used as a replacement of virgin fibres in an HDF production process. This allows the recycling of the main part of a laminate flooring – the core HDF.

The Unilin pilot plant at its MDF mill in Bazeilles, France has been refined to the process needs of the recycling process. This line is producing over 1 ton of recycled fibres per hour, and these fibres are immediately reused in the production of new MDF/HDF products on a continuous basis. 

Unilin says this small recycling unit demonstrates the “huge potential” of the developed technology. The company says waste fibres can be extracted and reused, with no significant impact on quality, and the recycling can be done at “economically interesting conditions”. 

The process is also claimed to save electrical/thermal energy compared to the energy required for producing wood fibres based on virgin wood.

The CISUFLO project is also looking at recycling textile and vinyl flooring, with other pilot plants for those materials also being set up.