The resilient floorcovering market in Australia has grown steadily over the last two decades, driven by innovative design, development, and uptake of new products, particularly Luxury Vinyl Tiles (LVT) and more recently, Hybrid products.

Australia today consumes an estimated 22 million sqm or 95,000 tonnes of these products each year. Nevertheless, there is growing recognition that a resilient industry is one that meets it social licence to operate – that is, it meets the long-term approval of its stakeholders. Today, this necessitates addressing expectations of delivering on not just product functionality and aesthetics, but also sustainability performance, including facilitating a circular economy. In this, the local industry is stepping up by embarking on a game-changing project, ResiLoop, to drive forward its ambition for a national recycling system for resilient floorcoverings.

Resilient flooring is made from materials that have some elasticity, such as vinyl, linoleum, or rubber. This gives the product a degree of flexibility and/or cushioning, delivering floors that are comfortable to stand and walk on, are durable and have acoustic benefits. Used in forms such as tiles, sheet, and planks, they are suitable in both residential and commercial settings – from kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms to healthcare, schools, retail, offices, and sports facilities.

With the success of LVT and Hybrid, a growing number of companies from the wider floor covering industry have commenced distribution of resilient products, and tiles now account for some 60 percent of the resilient flooring market.

The Australian Resilient Flooring Association (ARFA), formed over 30 years ago, is an industry association that acts as the collective voice for companies in the sector to advance and protect the interests of the industry in Australia. Its members represent leading companies and global brands that manufacture, import and/or distribute resilient flooring to the Australian market. Led by an active executive committee, ARFA engages in advocacy in relevant government regulatory matters, industry sustainability, standards development, and market data collation. It collaborates with a range of relevant entities and stakeholders to support industry training initiatives in the TAFE and private sectors.

The association recently led the process of updating the relevant technical standard for installation practices of resilient floorcoverings, AS1884: 2021. ARFA’s current strategic focus now includes participating in other relevant Australian Standards committees such as that for AS4586 Slip Resistance Protocols and coordinating industry-wide sustainability initiatives through its Sustainability sub-committee.

ARFA’s sustainability strategy aims to engage in relevant actions that support the industry in addressing and meeting stakeholder expectations of sustainability priorities. This includes educating members to develop a common understanding of product sustainability and stakeholder expectations; improving transparency through factual information and common terminology, metrics and standards; and developing the pathway to a circular economy for members’ products in Australia.

Advancing a circular economy for resilient flooring products means not only improving how we source raw materials and manufacture the products – aspects well covered by third party ecolabel schemes such as Best Practice PVC, Global Green Tag and GECA – it also means retaining resources in productive use for as long as possible. This means improving upfront product design to enable long service life, repairability, reuse or repurposing, and ultimately, recyclability. It is about moving away from a linear ‘take, make, waste’ approach in industry to thinking about – and taking responsibility for – a wholistic, circular system where ‘waste’ is virtually designed out and parties along the supply chain collaborate to retain resources in use, reduce environmental footprint and optimise value.

A number of ARFA’s members have developed company-based initiatives to take-back installation waste or flooring at end of first use for recycling. However, there has been growing recognition that whilst these are important steps in diverting waste from landfill, to achieve scale requires greater industry collaboration and investment in infrastructure in Australia.

At the same time, the Australian Government has sought to stimulate research and investment to divert waste from landfill and expand Australia’s capacity to sort, process and remanufacture key recycled materials. A National Waste Policy Action Plan was introduced in 2019 which included developing regulations to restrict waste exports, plans to stimulate domestic demand for recycled materials and a national resource recovery target of 80 percent by 2030.

The policy package also included the establishment of the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund (NPSIF) to support an increase in the number of industry-led product stewardship schemes in Australia and increase the recycling rates of existing schemes. To date, 24 projects have been funded by the NPSIF, with a government investment totalling $18.6 million.

To advance its sustainability strategy, in early 2022, ARFA secured a $1 million grant from the Australian Government through the NPSIF to develop a product stewardship scheme for resilient flooring. Named ‘ResiLoop,’ this 12-month project involves research and field trials to test various approaches in both residential and commercial sectors and inform the design and development of a national, commercially viable, waste recovery and recycling scheme.

ARFA hopes that ResiLoop will influence sector-wide behaviour changes to advance product circularity by engaging manufacturers, distributors, specifiers, flooring contractors, recyclers, and consumers.

ARFA President, Dan Lovell, explains: “This project, ResiLoop, presents an opportunity to create new collaborations along the entire supply chain for resilient floorcoverings and to advance a circularity mindset that will be welcomed across the marketplace.

“Given limited existing options for recycling these products in Australia, ARFA will be exploring all avenues to identify suitable technologies and partners in order to develop a viable system of recovery, reprocessing and reuse. We welcome companies engaged in the sector as well as wider industry to connect and engage with us in finding the solution.”