Sustainability-Focused Surface Protection Product Guide

While the demand for green buildings continues to expand in the commercial and residential building sectors, there is little availability of environmentally friendly surface protection products. For example, a green building may incorporate sustainable materials in all installed finishes, but be protected by foreign-made cling film made from petroleum-dependent plastics. A newly installed bamboo floor can be covered with ordinary wood floor protection made entirely of man-made materials.

Surface protection and dust containment are two vital methods of protecting against costly job site construction damage and controlling indoor air quality. The development of new protection products that use recycled materials and products made for reuse is gaining momentum. Construction customers ask suppliers about the environmental impact of the products they choose to buy. Fortunately, there are now vendors focused on helping customers choose surface protection products made with the least environmental impact. These products are generally made from; paper, cotton scraps and recycled plastics.

Surface protection made from recycled compressed paper or recycled corrugated cardboard has several common applications, including the protection of floors, doors and countertops. Ram Board® is the most well-known brand of laminated fiberboard and is commonly used to protect floors and countertops. It is made from 100% recycled paper, of which 90% is post-consumer material. Although marketed as reusable, most users report that the Ram Board® does not hold up well enough to be reused. DoorGuard(TM), the first and best known door guard on the market, is made from 99% recycled cardboard. The DoorGuard(TM) is typically reused multiple times per construction project and is attached with natural rubber. It is frequently moved from the lower floors of a skyscraper under construction to the upper floors as construction progresses. DoorGuard(TM) and Ram Board® can be recycled into new products.

Recycled cotton textiles are used in various types of reusable, rolled-up floor protection that provides a soft layer of adsorbent protection that won’t scratch floors. These products consist of two types; a breathable rolled product designed to allow glue vapors to be released from newly installed floors and a laminated product that makes the protection waterproof. Both the unlined, breathable cotton protection and the plastic-lined leak-proof product can be reused many times. Unfortunately, however, plastic-coated protection cannot be recycled without first removing the coating. Currently, these products are manufactured and imported from Europe; however, similar products from a US manufacturer will be available soon.

The most common and least environmentally friendly types of temporary surface protection are temporary adhesive films. These films are commonly made in Asia from 100% virgin plastic and then imported into the US. Although these films are low in cost per square foot, they have recommended wear times ranging from 30 to 180 days and of no way they are reusable. However, a positive point for the protection of plastic is the recycling of the plastic used in corrugated plastic sheets. These sheets protect floors, walls, exterior windows and many other surfaces on large commercial construction projects. In recent months, plastic sheets made with up to 30% pre-consumer plastic waste have become available and are made in the USA. The manufacturer will accept used sheets for recycling into new sheets.

Choosing to use surface protection is in itself a positive step towards sustainability. Protecting bathtubs, floors, doors and other finishes reduces the chances that they will require repairs with toxic compounds or, worse yet, be unrecoverable and end up in a landfill. This unfavorable result damages both the environment and the profits of the builders. Hopefully, the trend toward sustainable surface protection will continue to move rapidly into the future as the options and popularity of eco-friendly finishes grow.

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