The elegance and beauty of tiles is indisputable. However, as the world becomes more environmentally responsible, it’s time to investigate the eco-credentials of tiles. So, just how eco-friendly are tiles?
Eco-Unfriendly Aspects of Tiles
Large Carbon Footprint in the Fabrication Process:
The considerably high kiln temperatures (up to 1,200°C) required to make tiles is the biggest concern for those with a green conscience. Furthermore, some glazes require a second scorching in the kiln to achieve a superior finish. As the majority of kilns are likely to run on energy that comes from fossil fuels, this process leaves a considerable carbon footprint on the environment.
However, proponents of tiles might counter argue that the fabrication of ceramics require considerably less energy than glass. Furthermore, modern tile factories employ heat recovery systems which feed the heat generated by the kiln back into building and water heating, thus eliminating any carbon footprint related to these necessities. In fact, some factories export their generated heat to the surrounding community thus helping to reduce the carbon imprint of that community.
Toxic Chemicals Related to Glazes:
The glazing process requires the use of chemical dyes and solvents that are discharged as waste and can contaminate our eco systems. Indeed some of the glazes actually contain harmful chemicals, such as lead, that can seep into the environment. However, in recent years the use of noxious constituents in glazes is being eradicated in most countries and a wide range of non-hazardous glazes are now readily available.
Eco-Friendly Aspects of Tiles
Environmentally Friendly Sourcing of Tile Material:
As tiles are composed of natural clay and other plentiful raw materials, their production does not require the exploitation of any other natural resources such as trees or rock. Indeed, the use of wood-effect, marble-effect, granite-effect, and slate-effect tiles, which perfectly imitate natural materials, makes a substantial contribution to protecting forests and landscapes across the globe.
Image: Atelier Wood Effect Floor Tiles
Low Transport Footprint:
The transportation of rare, raw or processed materials across the globe is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation. However, the natural materials required to make tiles can be sourced practically anywhere in the world thus greatly reducing the footprint associated with transport. Take for example our magnificent Aura tiles below.
Image: Aura Floor and Wall Tiles
Rather than being quarried out of rock that is indigenous to Italy, and transported halfway across the planet to its end destination, this gorgeous tile, which flawlessly replicates natural rock, can be made from materials sourced local to the end destination. And a further reduction of the transport footprint comes from the fact that stone-effect and wood-effect tiles are generally a lot thinner than the natural material they so impeccably simulate, thus further reducing transport costs per square metre.
More Durable and Longer Lasting:
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are incredibly hard, and both chemically and physically inert. They are far more durable than other building materials or other flooring options such as carpet, thus reducing the extra processing requirements associated with on-going maintenance and re-working.
Tiles Do Not Release Toxic Compounds into the Environment:
When ceramic does eventually degrade, it's far more benign to the environment than plastics or carpet which release volatile toxic compounds. Even natural wood and stone require finishes / lacquering or chemical sealing which contain toxins. Such harmful materials are not required for wood-effect or stone-effect tiles as the glaze is impermeable. Furthermore, stone-effect tiles require only about 2/3 the quantity of adhesive for laying as compared to natural stone.
Tiles Do Not Require Chemical Cleaning Agents:
As glazed tiles have practically zero absorption levels and cannot be penetrated by contaminates, no chemical cleaners are needed. This avoids the discharge of the hazardous types of chemicals into our water systems that are required to clean carpets, glass, rock, wood etc.
Use of Recycled Content, and Recyclability of Tiles:
Modern tiles contain substantial quantities (25% to 40%) of both pre-consumer and post-industrial recycled content such as glass, aluminium, and clay salvaged from mining operations. Indeed some of the most modern eco-tiles are now produced from 100% locally resourced recycled material.
Not only can tiles be made of 100% recycled material, but they are also 100% recyclable and can be used in the production of materials such as cement, road substrates, brick or tile mosaics without the need for special treatments. Not just the raw material, but also the glazes and even the water from the fabrication process can be recycled, thus almost entirely eliminating waste.
Tiles that Actively Protect the Environment!
The most recent cutting-edge technology has developed tiles that integrate particles of titanium dioxide onto the surface, which can react with toxic substances in building and other materials. This prevents or considerably reduces the release of toxins into the environment, thus actively promoting the wellbeing of humanity in addition to protecting the environment.
The numerous eco-credentials of tiles should now be apparent. In fact, if the heat from the kiln is diverted to internal heating and other external energy needs, and when non-hazardous materials are employed for the glaze, there are no other options currently available that are as eco-friendly as tiles.