When thinking about sustainability, the tiles in your kitchen or bathroom are probably the last thing on your mind.
However, tiled flooring can actually have a pretty big environmental impact.
Vitrified tiles can be detrimental to the environment due to mining.
Here’s everything you need to know about how eco-friendly vitrified tiles are and how to choose more sustainable flooring.
1. What Are Vitrified Tiles Made Of?
Vitrified tiles are made from a mix of clay and silica, which is also referred to as silica quartz.
Some versions of these tiles will also contain feldspar.
They are intended to be an alternative to marble and granite tiles as they’re typically more affordable but are still stylish and have a similar appearance.
2. Are Vitrified Tiles Bad for the Environment?
Vitrified tiles are not good for the environment due to the materials used to make these tiles.
Although clay is widely available, it is not a renewable source and could run out if there is high demand for it.
Plus, mining for clay causes pollution. Clay mining can pollute nearby water supplies, the air, and degrade the surrounding environment.
Research found that the surrounding environment does not seem to fully recover after the clay has been mined.
The area is cleared of vegetation to set up the site, which then causes soil erosion, meaning the land is no longer suited for agriculture or other uses.
The extraction site is rarely covered over once the mining process has wrapped up, so there are large open-air craters left over.
These craters can further soil erosion and become flooded with rainwater; this may harm wildlife who fall in. The water is also unusable for the local community.
Silica quartz is also non-renewable. It is a rare material that forms over a long period of time when strict conditions are met, so it cannot be replenished easily.
Like clay, silica is mined, which is detrimental to the environment.
Exposure to crystalline silica dust during the manufacturing process is also extremely harmful to humans and wildlife.
It has been linked with tuberculosis, autoimmune diseases, nonmalignant renal disease, cancer, and more illnesses.
When mining silica, these dust particles enter the surrounding environment. If they settle on plants, they disrupt photosynthesis and the respiration process.
Poor plant health then has a knock-on effect on animals who consume these plants or use them for shelter.
Silica mining is also linked with waterborne diseases as the dust pollutes groundwater, which can spread throughout the area and make humans and animals sick.
Although feldspar is the most common mineral in the Earth’s crust, it still must be mined, so it is associated with the environmental hazards that go along with it.
These materials are ground up and pressed together under high heat and pressure to make vitrified tiles.
This often occurs in a kiln, which requires huge amounts of energy and releases a large amount of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming.
As most energy still does not come from renewable sources, this is not a sustainable practice.
Vitrified tiles are often glazed. Some glazes, especially solvent-based glazes, can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which cause air pollution.
Some glazes may contain corundum, clay, feldspar, pumice, and other materials sourced from mines.
3. Are Vitrified Tiles Recyclable?
Vitrified tiles are recyclable. Many kinds of tiles can be recycled.
However, these are not suited for your home recycle bin as these recycling facilities do not have the means to turn tiles into new products.
Some areas will have specific recycling facilities that can process tiles. They are usually disposed of with discarded building materials.
However, not everyone will have access to such centers.
4. Are Vitrified Tiles Reusable?
Vitrified tiles are reusable. Most kinds of tiles are reusable if they’re removed carefully.
Vitrified tiles can break if they are handled recklessly, so you might need a professional to help remove the adhesive and free the tiles.
Once all the adhesive has been removed from the back of the tiles, they can be reused for new walling or flooring.
5. Are Vitrified Tiles Biodegradable?
Vitrified tiles are not biodegradable.
Some people believe clay is biodegradable, but this isn’t actually the case.
While clay might shatter and split into tiny fragments of dust, it does not actually biodegrade.
Quartz and feldspar are not biodegradable either. So while it’s possible for the tiles to break into tiny sand-like fragments, they have not actually degraded.
Even if clay or another material in tiles was biodegradable, it would be difficult to separate them from the others.
This is especially true if the tiles are glazed, as it effectively keeps them sealed.
The materials could not break down without the appropriate oxygen levels, moisture levels, weather conditions, and temperature.
6. Are Vitrified Tiles Sustainable?
Vitrified tiles are not sustainable. The main materials used to make these tiles, like silica, clay, and feldspar, are not renewable.
All of these ingredients are sourced from mining which causes heavy pollution, environmental damage and can even be detrimental to human health.
With that said, vitrified tiles are pretty durable. They are non-porous, which means they are unlikely to accumulate fractures, stains, and water damage.
So, they should have a very long life span.
With sustainability becoming more mainstream, there is research into developing greener vitrified tiles.
Gneiss rock is usually left over when manufacturing vitrified tiles. Research found that this material can also be used when creating vitrified tiles, which saves on waste and resources.
However, these kinds of vitrified tiles are not as common as standard vitrified tiles.
7. How to Dispose of Vitrified Tiles Properly?
Tiles cannot go in your home recycle bin. Instead, you will need to take them to a recycling facility.
If you do not have access to a recycling facility, you should not put them in your general waste bin because they are too big and heavy.
Instead, you may have to contact a garbage bin rental service, also known as skip hire in some regions, to dispose of your tiles for you. They will usually be landfilled.
8. What Are Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Vitrified Tiles?
Cork is a renewable material that comes from trees.
Natural cork is recyclable and biodegradable, but flooring may not be biodegradable if oil-based varnishes and paints have been used on them.
With that said, cork eliminates the need for mining.
Since glass is made from sand, it is easier to replenish than the likes of clay or silica.
Glass can also be recycled an unlimited amount of times, and like cork, it is not mined.
Laminate is a sturdy material mostly made up of layered wood fibers.
Trees are a natural, renewable resource, so this is a greener choice than vitrified tiles as they can be replenished.
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