Manufacturers Insulate Against Environmental Impact Insulation becomes more environmentally friendly

Consumer requests for green products are driving the building industry to use more materials with low environmental impact.

March 31, 2000

Consumer requests for green products are driving the building industry to use more materials with low environmental impact. To meet demand, many manufacturers are considering the environmental impact of a product from both local and global perspectives.

For environmentally conscious companies, the key word in design and construction is sustainability--building for longevity while conserving the environment. Architects, specifiers and builders want products that are energy efficient, conserve virgin resources, minimize waste, and reduce pollution. Fiberglass, rock wool and slag wool insulation manufacturers have responded quickly to requests for more environmentally friendly materials. By increasing the amount of recycled materials used in their products, many of these manufacturers are helping to conserve resources and save energy at the same time.

First, fiber glass and slag wool insulations reduce wastes. Both products make buildings more energy efficient, and a thermally efficient building reduces the amount of energy required to maintain a comfortable living environment. A reduction in energy consumption conserves nonrenewable fuel supplies.

Fiber glass and slag wool insulations also reduce air pollution. Reduced energy consumption translates into a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2 and NOx. These gases are released into the atmosphere and are directly linked to the problem of global warming.

Using recycled materials in the manufacture of insulation prevents depletion of natural resources. Today's fiber glass insulation contains more than 40 percent recycled glass, depending upon the manufacturing facility. More than 6 billion pounds of pre- and post-consumer glass waste have been recycled during the production of fiber glass insulation during the past six years, says a study by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA). During that period, nearly the same amount of blast furnace slag has been recycled during the production of slag wool insulation, according to NAIMA.

Using materials derived from secondary sources not only reduces the demand on virgin resources, it saves landfill space by diverting glass containers and slag from the solid waste stream. Fiber glass and slag wool manufacturers have diverted approximately 12 billion pounds of materials from the solid waste stream since the introduction of an aggressive recycling program several years ago, says NAIMA. As an added environmental benefit of mixing recycled materials with raw materials, insulation manufacturers are able to use less energy than by using raw materials alone. Some insulation manufacturers have instituted conservation measures. One conservation method is to re-engineer manufacturing processes to incorporate production scrap back into the primary production process or reprocess it into other products. Using compression packaging that cuts energy requirements for transportation and allows more insulation to be shipped in each truck is another. While recycled content is important, manufacturers of fiberglass, rock wool and slag wool continue to test for additional environmentally friendly processes.

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