Hello healthytom, and thank you for your question.
Rubber flooring is generally considered a "low-impact,"
environmentally friendly building material. Virgin rubber is
sustainable as it is derived from trees, and the manufacture of
synthetic rubber also has a low impact on the environment. Flooring
that contains recycled rubber, however, is cheaper and more durable
choice than synthetic or virgin rubber, and is considered a better
choice as far as environmental impact is concerned. For reasons in
favor of using recycled rubber over virgin or synthetics, see this
list under the heading "Advantages of reclaiming and recovering
rubber" at http://www.tve.org/ho/doc.cfm?aid=636.
Recycled rubber flooring's low impact on the environment indeed
carries over into all areas that you mention: manufacture, use and
disposal. To stretch your question just a bit, also consider that
rubber's sound absorbing qualities impact the environment by reducing
There is an excellent breakdown of the areas in your question here,
under the heading "Rubber Tile, Recycled:"
"The Green Renovation Guide: Floor Coverings" (DesigningGreen.com)
1. The energy required to process the used tires and chemicals is
lower than that used to produce other resilient flooring.
2. Adhesives and tiles continually produce minor but non-hazardous
gasses; not enough however to fall out of strict air quality ranges.
3. Rubber tiles are flammable but are 100% recyclable. If installed
without adhesive, additional recycling benefits are realized.
I have collected some supporting documentation regarding rubber
flooring and placed them in their appropriate sections below.
"Using recycled content rubber flooring assists in closing the
recycling loop as opposed to using a product with little or no
"Sustainable Materials Selection," (State of California, Integrated
Waste Management Board)
"Rubber flooring which contains chlorine-based ingredients should be
avoided. Ethylene propylene diene (EPDM) type rubber is
recommended by the Danish Environmental Protection Authority as
an alternative to PVC."
"Alternatives to dioxin sources in the Mediterranean," by Beverley
Thorpe, Clean Production Action for Greenpeace Mediterranean Project
* Use and Installation
Minor off-gassing is an issue with rubber flooring. The gasses have an
odor but will not release hazardous chemicals. "In some cases,
products with recycled content are included with caveats regarding
where they should be used. Rubber flooring made from recycled
automobile tires is a good example--the caveat is that these products
should not be used in most fully enclosed indoor spaces due to
offgassing concerns." Rubber flooring is not known for it's indoor air
quality ratings as much as cork (which is also excellent for it's
"Building Materials: What Makes a Product Environment Friendly?"
Since rubber flooring can be applied without adhesive, there is an
extra benefit in the elimination of the impact of manufacturing of the
adhesive as well as the improved air quality of the area where the
adhesive would have been. See the section titled "Adhesive-Free
Installation of Floor Coverings" here:
"The Green Renovation Guide: Floor Coverings" (DesigningGreen.com)
Adhesive-free installation could promote recycling used rubber
flooring in another application, thus eliminating disposal concerns.
However, disposal is inevitable at some point. Rubber flooring is 100%
recyclable, as opposed to vinyl (petroleum-based) products.
"Rubber flooring is also a long-life product (20 years) and is derived
from a potentially sustainable source (trees). Furthermore it can be
recycled for use in cars, although the same practical problems of
removal and contamination apply."
"Walls, Ceilings and Floors...," Stepping Stones, No.64 (December
Some manufacturers of rubber flooring:
Burke Flooring Products
Nora Rubber Flooring
R.C.A. Rubber Company
Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Floor Coverings (Sustainable Sources)
"Highlights of Environmental Flooring," by John Sailer (Environmental
Design and Construction, 2/8/01)
"environmental impact" "rubber flooring"
"environmental impact" "rubber tile"
"rubber tile" off-gassing
"sustainable building" "rubber flooring"
"virgin rubber" flooring "environmental impact"
I hope this is of help to you. Please don't hesitate to ask for
clarification if you would like more information.
Clarification of Answer by
14 Jun 2002 21:39 PDT
Hello again! Your follow-up is absolutely fair and rightly requested.
I have found several more sources that appear to close in on your
outstanding reference needs.
* Manufacturing emissions
"Joint Workshop of the International Rubber Study Group and the
Secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
on Opportunities and constraints for the internalization of
environmental costs and benefits into the price of rubber"
- This document may help you the most, though it deals with the tire
manufacturing segment of the rubber industry. You have to consider the
manufacture of tires because first of all, recycled rubber must first
have tires and the impact includes "all of the above," and second,
manufacture of rubber flooring from synthetic rubber will follow that
of tire manufacturing. Here are a few general excerpts that I found
most relevant, though a thorough reading of the document will prove
page 8: Table 1: Taxonomy of environmental consequences of rubber
page 11: "Unfortunately, primary processing of natural rubber can
lead to significant environmental pollution, especially of
watercourses and through localized unpleasant odours."
page 12: "Mixing natural rubber can lead to the emission of
unpleasant odours and this can become a serious problem in urban
"Industry's impact on the environment" (Sangonet)
- Scroll to "Chemical Industry," which outlines the environmental
impact of the chemical industry (of which rubber manufacturing is one)
"Documents related to: Rubber Manufacturing" (EPA.gov)
- A list of EPA documents that you can order. The page lists only
titles, no abstracts
* Indoor air emissions
Most specific IAQ test results are those relating to rubber-backing,
adhesive, and underlayments used in carpet installation. Recycled
rubber is currently in vogue for use in carpet padding; I would
surmise that these results would be comparable to rubber tile flooring
in an enclosed space. For more information about this testing program,
see the CRI Indoor Air Quality Carpet Testing Program's web site at
"Do not use rubber flooring, such as that made from recycled tires, in
enclosed areas because off gassing can continue for years."
"Healthy Indoor Environments" (The Sustainability Project)
The flammability of rubber flooring depends on what materials are in
the mix, and that will depend on the manufacturer. Flooring containing
chlorine and PVC's should be avoided, as these chemicals are released
when burned. Here is a comparison chart of PVC-free resilient flooring
(such as rubber) which includes materials used, flammability rating,
and environmental impact:
Rubber & Vinyl Specification Table (Mercer Products)
- Flammability test results for vinyl and rubber flooring products
"Saftey Standards" (Activa Rubber Flooring)
- Notes on Activa rubber tile flooring, including flammability and
emissions when burned or disposed
"rubber flooring" manufacture chemical emission "environmental impact"
flooring rubber "indoor emissions"
flooring rubber flammability
Let me know if this is of any help to you.