Posts Tagged ‘insulation’

Recycling Definitions: Theory and Practice

February 16, 2009

A key part of sustainability is recycling—that is, reduce, reuse, recycle. So when I think about recycling, it seems pretty straightforward to me. A good working definition of recycling can be found on It says: “to treat or process (used or waste materials) so as to make suitable for reuse: recycling paper to save trees.” But sometimes, actual practice is more complicated than theoretical definitions.

Item 1. Post Consumer vs. Post Industrial. I recently researched environmentally friendly insulation. I found out that the major (fiberglass) insulation makers have some percentage of recycled glass in their batt insulation. Take 2 big names in the field: Owens Corning and Johns Manville. As of Nov. 2008, Owens Corning says that 40% of the glass in their fiberglass insulation is recycled. Johns Manville says that 25% of the glass in their product is recycled. So 40% beats 25% pretty easily, correct? Maybe.

But then I find out that the Johns Manville is 20% post consumer and 5% post industrial, while the Owens Corning is 10% post consumer and 30% post industrial. Post consumer really means it comes from from a end-user application (examples—office supplies or a soda bottle) and thereby avoids a landfill. Post industrial means the waste from one industrial process goes to another manufacturing process in a different industry. The post consumer sounds environmentally better to me. The LEED green building standards think so also, since they essentially award double credit for post consumer vs post industrial. So Johns Manville gets 20+20+5 = 45 points, Owens Corning gets 10+10+30 = 50 points. Who “recycles” more glass in their insulation? (Both of these products have been certified for recycled content for building products/insulation by Scientific Certification Systems at

Item 2. The Great Recycling Recession. A friend of mine has a print shop (Homer Printing) in the Philadelphia area. He used to be able to sell his recyclable paper for $40/ton. Then he got a letter from his recycling contact that the price had fallen from $40 to somewhere near zero, but they would still take it. He has since gotten a letter saying he now has to pay $30/ton to have the recyclable paper taken away. It could be worse—he could pay somewhere around $65/ton to ship it to a landfill. This is a powerful reminder that it is only possible to reduce, reuse, and recycle if someone else wants the product(s) you want to recycle.

But life isn’t all bad—the napkin I got from Dunkin Donuts this morning is made from 100% recycled fiber. I think that means that no trees were cut down to create the fiber for the paper in the napkin—but there might be more to this than meets the eye.

Website used in this post:
LEED standards—New Buildings version 2.2

The Walls Come Crumbling Down

January 14, 2009

And the Walls Came Crumbling Down

And our big construction project of the winter began—new insulation for the 3 bedrooms in our house. They happen to be in the back of the house. They are very cold in the winter, and very hot in the summer. So we figured insulation would be a good way to help. We decided to have the drywall pulled off, and new rolls of insulation installed. Environmentalist that I am, I begin to search for environmentally friendly insulation.

I quickly find out that the insulation industry considers itself fairly green anyways because installing insulation saves energy use, which is inherently green. I’ll accept that, to a point. But I want to know what is in it. I would prefer to use environmentally friendly materials if possible.

In one corner is the old reliable—fiberglass insulation with some percentage of recycled glass. It also has formaldehyde as a bonding agent, and that does not sound good. It has been around forever, and kept plenty of people warm. It also has big warnings on the packages about dangerous chemicals inside. All the pictures have a person with a mask to install it. The masks are kind of worrisome.

In the other corner is the challenger. Apparently there is an insulation that is made from recycled cotton. (There is also blown in insulation made from recycled newspaper, but blown in insulation is not feasible here). I got pretty excited about the prospect of using insulation almost completely made of recycled materials. It also had fire and mold retardants mixed in. And it had no horrible formaldehyde.

I thought this would be so easy. I got quotes on the cotton insulation. Then I went to Home Depot and learned how to read their price tags for the regular insulation. It turns out that the cotton stuff is not the same price as the regular stuff; it is 10 TIMES the price, (that is a 1 and a 0.). I can’t afford to sustain that particular product. I spent $127 on the CertainTeed insulation I bought on Saturday. I would have spent $1,000 on the cotton stuff. I kept the extra $900 in my pocket.

I’ll have to console myself with the following:
The insulation I bought is Greenguard certified for low emissions, suitable for children and schools. CertainTeed says that they use 35% recycled materials in their product, and that their factories are ISO 14001 certified. This basically means that they have an environmental management process in place in their factories. I am not sure if this means that they actually follow it. The other major brand I am aware of, Owens Corning, has recently announced a 40% recycled content for its insulation. It (Owens) also has a fairly extensive sustainability report on its website (perhaps motivated by the fact that they went bankrupt due to asbestos claims in the 1990s). The report is pretty impressive.

And finally, our house will be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer while using less electric heat and air conditioning. Sometimes half a loaf is better than none of a loaf.

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