Recycled Porcelain Creates Sustainable Terrazzo Finishes
Texas designer’s terrazzo comes from unlikely sources
by Russell Boniface
How do you . . . recycle materials to create eco-friendly fixtures and furnishings?
Summary: Architects are taking an interest in Plano, Tex.-based designer Tim Whaley and his firm EnviroGLAS for their terrazzo countertops and hardwood floors, recycled from porcelain toilets, sinks, and tubs. Whaley’s trademark countertops and hardwood floors, named EnviroMODE, also are getting attention in the form of awards from both the National Recycling Coalition and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and have been showcased at venues such as last month’s Greenbuild conference in Chicago. Whaley and his company hope to exhibit their recycled terrazzo products at the AIA 2008 National Convention in Boston in May.
Whaley and EnviroGLAS acquire both used and unused toilets, sinks, and tubs—all on their way to Dallas landfills—to reuse as terrazzo countertops and hardwood floors. The used porcelain is sanitized, and all reclaimed porcelain is crushed into bits to become their VOC-free terrazzo products, called EnviroMODE.
Whaley, no stranger to recycled materials, says that although architects laughed at first, EnviroMODE has now become well received by architects, landscapers, and contractors, mainly because the product is a reuse application that also frees landfill space. Whaley recently worked with a terrazzo contractor to complete an 8,500-square-foot hardwood floor. Landscapers are also interested in using his toilets-turned-terrazzo for outdoor applications (Whaley just shipped 100 porcelain-filled bags to a landscaper.) Even the high-end MGM Center in Las Vegas has inquired about the product’s applications.
City of Dallas came calling
“It’s a grassroots effort in progress,” says Whaley. “We don’t really have competition, and there’s an overabundance of discarded porcelain out there.” The idea to recycle porcelain from toilets came to Whaley a year ago when he and his company were working with a terrazzo contractor on a school floor. They were using crushed post-consumer glass from a landfill when they noticed bits of crushed white porcelain. “I always knew porcelain would work in a terrazzo application, but never thought of its magnitude until the City of Dallas came to me to see if we can help them free up landfill space. Dallas is required by a water regulation to convert to low-flow toilets. We investigated how we could crush and clean toilets, which are vitreous china, then size them for flooring, countertops, and even landscaping.”
Crushed to bits
Whaley went to a facility in Brownfield, Tex., run by the Kohler Company, which is well known for its kitchen and bath products, to investigate what becomes of its discarded, unused toilets. “I was shocked to see that every six hours perfectly good toilets that didn’t meet manufacturing code or color requirements come off palettes and get dumped into a 30-yard dumpster. The toilets were then shipped to a site and run over, taking them down to football size, then scooped up and taken to a landfill.”
Whaley acquired 100 tons of their discarded toilets but had to pay for its transportation. “We had 10 trucks of broken toilets shipped to Marble Falls, Tex. We worked with a firm called Cactus Canyon—they brought the toilets into their facility and crushed them with a rock crusher.” Once Whaley and EnviroGLAS had the porcelain particles, they hand-ground off the enamel surface and mixed in epoxy resin. Whaley worked with a separate company to polish the bits.
Whaley began to intermix glass and multi-colored epoxy resin to create an eye-catching look. Eventually, metal and plastic bathroom fixtures were ground and spread into the terrazzo mix. “But the application is always going to have that bone color in the aggregate,” he notes. “It will have the bold, Venetian marble terrazzo look of the Art Deco days.”
Whaley notes there’s no difference in reusing porcelain from used and unused toilets other than the sanitation process of cleaning and drying the used toilets, which he admits is a bit of trial-and-error, without the use of any special chemicals. “The main thing is the vitreous china is protected on its surface with baked enamel to keep the toilets from deteriorating on the inside.” Whaley is looking at outsourcing the sanitizing to a firm that might have an available large tank.
Flush with success
“After doing a few jobs, I knew the story was bigger than the product,” Whaley states. “We started showcasing. When I explored our products with architects, their eyes drew to the terrazzo as if to ask, ‘What is that?’ We would tell them it’s crushed toilets. Architects and interior designer became attracted to the marble look and reuse application.”
A visit to the AIA convention in Boston could be in the offing. “We think change takes time, effort, and education. I truly see this not as a hoax or spin on a new product, but rather a product that has sustainable clout. It’s wrong to think that because porcelain is broken that it doesn’t have any more performance.”