Sustainable roots

Features - Feature

Through recycling programs and other initiatives, Armstrong World Industries has a legacy of embracing sustainable practices.

July 10, 2012
Kristin Smith

Most people know Armstrong World Industries for its floors and ceilings, but the company also has another claim to fame. Having been a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and many other GBCs throughout the world, people have come to know Armstrong as a leader in green building and sustainable practices. The company has spent more than a decade recycling ceiling tiles and has recently launched a flooring recycling program. But the company’s history in recycling and sustainability goes back much further than that.

Thomas Armstrong founded Armstrong Cork Co. in 1860 and by 1899, the company was using cork scrap left over from the manufacturing process to produce linoleum and cork insulation. By 1920, the company had developed Vibracork using the scrap material to absorb vibrations and reduce sound in buildings. It introduced another product named Corkoustic in 1926. Two years later, Armstrong began cutting, painting and selling the material as a finished surface. Of course the rest is history as Armstrong ceiling tiles have found their way into office buildings all over the world.

But buildings don’t last forever and interiors become outdated. Armstrong, which got its start in the building materials industry by using cork has continued to make strides in the use of recycled materials in its products.

A Simple Request
For the last 13 years, Armstrong has taken back old ceiling tiles that have been removed during demolition and renovation projects. It all began from a single customer request. The software company Microsoft was taking on a massive remodeling project and didn’t want to send all those ceiling tiles to a landfill. Armstrong came to the rescue.

Leading by Example

Armstrong World Industries doesn’t just help other companies achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The company also has achieved the certification. Its Corporate Headquarters Building 701 in Lancaster, Pa., earned platinum certification in 2007 under the LEED for Existing Buildings Rating System.

Armstrong launched its ceiling recycling program in 1999. Since then the company says it has recycled more than 123 million pounds of ceilings, which has resulted in 61,500 tons or 16,000 roll-off containers of material being diverted from landfills.

“The Armstrong ceiling recycling program is the longest running program of its kind and enables commercial building owners to send ceilings from construction sites to an Armstrong ceiling plant as an alternative to landfill disposal,” Anita Snader, Armstrong environmental sustainability manager, says.

The company has four ceiling plants in the U.S. that use the recycled tiles in their manufacturing processes. They are located in Marietta, Pa.; Pensacola, Fla.; St. Helen’s, Ore.; and Macon, Ga. These facilities have a large appetite for the recycled material. In fact, Armstrong has the ability to take in much more of the material than it is currently receiving, which is why expanding its program has been critical to securing raw material supply.

“We continue to grow. We continue to have more people asking to recycle their ceilings every year,” says Andy Lake, Armstrong recycling infrastructure process specialist. “When you have LEED v4 (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) changes and legislative branches moving toward more diversion rates, that only puts us in a better position to accept whatever is out there in the U.S. and Canada. We are also expanding our program globally, starting in the U.K. and Australia”

One step in securing supply has been a recent collaboration with Waste Management Inc. (WMI). This development is expected to significantly expand the existing Armstrong Ceiling Recycling program with 50 additional WMI material recovery facilities (MRFs) and construction companies it contracts with now being involved in the collection of ceiling tiles.

“As leaders in the ceiling industry, we continue to develop sustainable, innovative breakthroughs in both products and programs that provide valuable closed loop solutions to our customers,” says Snader. “A key goal of our program is to provide easy access to ceiling recycling where and when a customer needs it. Our collaboration with Waste Management will enhance this offering, allowing much more material to be recycled. In addition to Waste Management, we have other consolidators throughout the US and Canada who are independent recyclers, and our distributors that also sell new Armstrong products.”

The Approval Process
In order for ceiling tiles to be recycled through the Armstrong Ceiling Recycling Program, the project must be registered with Armstrong beforehand. Keith Mullen has the task of approving projects for the program. A LEED AP with Armstrong, Mullen has had to rule out any risk of contaminants.

Steps to Recycling Old Ceiling Tiles

1. SPECIFY: Develop a construction waste management plan. Include provisions for ceiling recycling in your project specifications. A guide specification is available at

2. REGISTER: Register your ceiling recycling project with the Armstrong Recycling Center at 1-877-276-7876 (press option 1, then 8).

3. CONFIRM: Review building and material requirements with the recycling center. The building construction date, an asbestos survey and a signed recycling agreement are required documentation to approve your recycling project. Be sure your project is approved before you begin removal of the ceiling for recycling.

4. REMOVE: Once your project is approved, there are two options to return your ceiling panels:

Option 1 Pallets: Stack the old panels on pallets, label and stretch wrap or tightly band them. Check with the Armstrong Recycling Center for bulk return methods that are available in some regions. Coordinate on-site storage and logistics.

Option 2 Container Separate: ceiling panels from other construction debris and place them in the designated recycling container. Coordinate removal of container with your local C&D partner.

5. CALL: Call Armstrong to arrange a pickup or locate a consolidator in your region. Contact the Armstrong Recycling Center at 1-877-276-7876 (press option 1, then 8).

The company has a zero tolerance for contaminants in the tiles it accepts, so it takes precautions to avoid any risk of contamination from asbestos or other concerns. For a job to be considered for recycling in a building before 1990, an asbestos survey must be submitted that proved the ceiling tiles did not come into contact with contaminants.

“Any chance of cross contamination, that job is out,” he says.

Armstrong will take back all brands of ceiling tiles. The company says it accepts:

  • all brands of dry, pulpable mineral fiber ceiling panels or tiles;
  • all metal splines must be removed;
  • all brands of dry fiberglass panels; and
  • all vinyl or scrim-faced mineral fiber panels.

The tiles arrive at the manufacturing facilities either palletized or in bales. The bales are processed at Armstrong’s consolidator locations by taking ceiling panels from buildings in containers and processing into bales. Armstrong will pick up full truckloads of old ceilings at no cost to the customer and will pay freight costs anywhere in the continental U.S. and in select parts of Canada. For quantities less than 30,000 square feet, customers can send material to the closest certified recycling contractor. Instructions are available on Armstrong’s website at

In addition to its recycling program, Armstrong recycles scrap produced at its manufacturing plants. “As we look at quality defects, anything that happens on our line, we are able to take that material to put back in our process,” says Lake.

This includes dust, scrap and defective tiles. “We try not to waste any material within our plant. We bring all that material back into our process and reutilize it,” Lake adds. “This process of recycle and re-use contributes to our overall corporate waste reduction efforts.”

Many Benefits
One of the ways the program benefits the construction and demolition industry is by helping increase the recycling rate on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects. Armstrong uses 100 percent of the used ceiling tiles in its process. The ceiling tiles containing recycled content also can contribute to LEED points. These products containing recycled content make up Armstrong’s Ceiling-2-Ceiling™ products.

The company claims that for every ton of ceiling tiles it recycles, it saves:

  • 456 kilograms of CO2 equivalents of greenhouse gases, the global impact of not driving a car 3,675 miles;
  • 11 tons of virgin raw materials which, in turn, saves 1,892 gallons of potable water; and
  • 1,390 kilowatt hours of electricity, the monthly energy required to power a home for 1.4 months.

The Next Chapter

As the Armstrong ceiling tile recycling program has grown, customers also have started to ask about recycling old flooring. Armstrong has recently introduced a recycling program for its VCT (vinyl composition tile) flooring.

“Our customers are looking for an end of life solution for VCT,” says Snader. “When recycling ceilings, they ask if we do floors too. Now we do.”

Snader says the company is committed to sustainability for itself and its customers.

“We’re committed to helping you reduce the environmental impact of the buildings you create from product design and raw material selection to how products are made and delivered,” she says. “As we work together to reclaim ceilings at the end of their useful life and use them as raw materials in making new ceilings, sustainability is built into our thinking day in and day out.”

The author is managing editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at

The Manufacturing Process.
See what Armstrong is doing at its Marietta, Pa., ceiling tile manufacturing plant to incorporate the use of the recycled ceiling tiles it collects. Go to to watch the video.


Part of the Process

C&D recyclers and demolition contractors wishing to learn more about how they can take part in Armstrong World Industries’ recycling programs for flooring and ceilings will want to mark their calendars for the C&D Recycling Forum, Sept. 23-25. Among the speakers are Andy Lake of Armstrong recycling infrastructure process specialist. He will share what criteria is needed for companies who want to recycle these materials with Armstrong during a session titled, “Closing New Loops.” He will be joined by Ron Greitzer of LA Fiber, Vernon, Calif., one of the largest recyclers of post-consumer carpet and Barry Hornbacher of Owens Corning,Toledo, Ohio.

More information on this and other sessions is available at or see the feature, “Opportunity Awaits” on page 34.