Part 4 of Jeff's Green series.

They say if you can't go to the mountain, make the mountain come to you.

Today, this old parable is being played out in the form of a mountain of used and discarded acoustical ceiling tile being transported from sites and locations to recycling facilities throughout the continental United States, most often by the tractor-trailer load.

Armstrong World Industries, a leading producer of acoustical ceiling tile and suspension systems, began its Ceiling Recycling Program in June 1999. A year later, it streamlined and reintroduced the program. Since then, it has grown exponentially. In 2000 alone, approximately 1.7 million square feet--approximately 1 million pounds of used ceiling tile--were diverted from landfills. This volume is expected to double in 2001. The program has been so successful, it received the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence from the State of Pennsylvania.

Recycling rather than discarding used tiles saves the costs for handling, transportation and Dumpster or landfill fees. At the same time, it benefits the environment by reducing the need for landfills while conserving natural resources. Time studies have shown recycling to be nearly as labor efficient as simply discarding the tile. For 1,000 square feet of tile, 1.3 man-hours were required to stack the tile onto pallets, whereas 1.2 man-hours were required to discard the tile into a Dumpster. Acoustical tile takes up a lot of space (by volume) in a typical roll-away Dumpster, especially when it is not neatly stacked (as is most often the case). A standard 30-cubic-yard Dumpster holds only about 6,000 square of tile. Translated, this is about 200 square feet per cubic yard.

Currently, many of Armstrong's tiles use more than two-thirds recycled content. Along with the recycled content and virgin material, waste from other industries are used to make new tiles. Mainly, this includes newsprint (old newspapers, etc.) and mineral wool (a byproduct of steel production). Even so, the quality of the tiles is in no way compromised. The program accepts used tile from any manufacturer--not only Armstrong. However, there are certain conditions that must be met. In general, they are:

o Painted tiles are acceptable, but subject to examination and approval.

o Any tile with foil or vinyl laminate is not acceptable.

o Fiber glass tile is accepted provided the tile has a paper or fiber glass laminate.

o Any tile in contact with hazardous materials or used in conjunction with hazardous materials is not acceptable.

o All tile must be clean and dry. No wood, metal, drywall insulation or other construction materials of any kind may be attached or included.

o The program reserves the right to reject any offer of used material.

Taking down suspended ceiling tiles.
The program is a three-step process:

Step 1: Confirmation

Material is confirmed that it is suitable for recycling based on the aforementioned criteria.

Step 2: Removal Material must be neatly stacked on 2-foot-by-4-foot or 4-foot-by-4-foot shipping pallets, either 4 feet or 6 feet high. Though a forklift is required to lift it, two 4-foot-high stacked (8 feet high total) pallets are preferred since they maximize trailer space. Neatly, evenly stacked tile placed on the pallet must be secured and stabilized with "stretch wrap" or metal bands for handling during loading and unloading. A full trailer load consists of the following:

For 2-foot-by-4-foot pallets: 44 each by 6 feet high (single stacked).

For 4-foot-by-4-foot pallets: 22 each by 6 feet high (single stacked) or 44 each by two 4 feet high (double stacked).

A full trailer is defined as 30,000 square feet of tile. Of course, tile thickness affects the number of tiles on a pallet (3/4-inch-thick tile takes up more space than 5/8-inch-thick tile). Very often, a simple field-built two-sided plywood box (not attached to the pallet) is used to simplify and organize the stacking of the tiles onto the pallets.

Step 3: Contact Armstrong

In conformance with steps 1 and 2, for a minimum load of 30,000 square feet of used tile, Armstrong will arrange for pick-up, at no charge, anywhere in the contiguous 48 states, providing the following conditions are met:

o A staging area on site is available to assemble pallets.

o The site can accommodate a trailer truck (72 feet long).

o The owner of the discarded tiles signs Armstrong's Recycling Agreement.

For quantities fewer than 30,000 square feet or conditions whereby a staging area is not available or a trailer cannot be accommodated, used tile can be delivered directly to a participating Armstrong distributor; a fee may apply. Based on a standard 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-6-foot-high pallet, fees can range up to $12 per pallet.

In this case, a formal recycling agreement with Armstrong is not required, but the Armstrong distributor may require other paperwork. For Armstrong distributors not yet participating in the program, a minimum of four pallets or between 5,600 square feet and 6,800 square feet of used tile can be delivered to an Armstrong plant. The same restrictions apply.

Crew of Acousti Engineering Co., Largo, Fla., remove old ceiling panels and stack them for shipment.

Success stories

Many major corporations have participated in the program. They have saved money while preventing the spread of landfills and conserving natural resources--a win-win proposition for all concerned. Here are some examples:

o Microsoft to date has recycled 1,000,000 square feet of tile at its Redmond, Wash., facility.

o Pacificorp replaced 230,000 square feet with higher-quality, superior-light-reflecting Armstrong Optima acoustical tile. It recycled more than 200,000 pounds of used tile.

o General Motors launched a program to recycle 4.4 million square feet of tile at its Technical Center in Warren, Mich. It chose Armstrong Ultima tile as replacement in many areas due to recycled content (79 percent) and superior light reflectance (89 percent).

o Six stores in the Stop 'N Shop Supermarket chain have recycled approximately 80,000 square feet per store, and more stores are scheduled to participate.

Armstrong's Ceiling Recycling Program is a successful model for a construction industry recycling program and has set a standard for corporate environmental responsibility for others to follow.