Aside from increasing your home’s resale value, insulation also helps you reduce your energy consumption and carbon emissions. But what about its reusability or recyclability? Is it really the eco-friendly solution that many people think it is?
Some insulation types are recyclable, but many of the old solutions we’ve used aren’t. Some of them contain asbestos that requires proper protective gear, handling, and disposal. Cellulose, fiberglass, spray foam, sheep’s wool, and cork are insulation types that are recyclable or, at least, reusable.
However, recycling these insulation types isn’t as simple as sending them to landfills or recycling facilities. Stick around because we’ll discuss everything that you need to know about their recyclability in great detail.
Can You Recycle or Reuse Old Insulation?
Using insulation for your house is an excellent investment because it allows you to reduce your carbon emissions and help you save energy. We discussed this at length in our post “Is Insulation Bad for the Environment?“. But since people are using it to help the environment in exchange for the additional upfront cost, it’s normal for anyone to wonder if it’s possible to recycle insulating materials.
Although many insulation types are made from recyclable materials, some won’t be easy to recycle. In fact, old insulation materials won’t be usable after some time because they contain hazardous substances that can be harmful to humans. One of these substances is asbestos, which is relatively safe behind closed walls, but removing it from your house will require proper gear and experience.
Regardless of the insulation material used for your home, it’s never a good idea to just throw it away in a trash bin. Old insulation could have asbestos, which can easily turn into a carcinogen. It’s also the reason why you shouldn’t reuse insulation unless it’s one of the types we’re going to discuss below—the ones that are recyclable or reusable.
Aside from this, home insulation, at least that one that really works, requires professional assistance. Although there are some DIY insulation procedures that you can do on your own, it’s still smarter to look for professionals who know and understand how they should handle these materials. Investing a bit more for the installation will allow you to repurpose them on-site without excessive waste.
What Types of Insulation Can You Recycle?
Some insulation types can’t be recycled or reused. Still, there are “greener” options that contain less harmful, recyclable materials such as spray foam, fiberglass, cellulose, sheep’s wool, and cork insulations. These are the most common types that you’ll find nowadays, but if you’re going to replace old insulation, it’s most likely made from harmful materials that require professional assistance.
Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam is a chemical that combines isocyanate and polyol resin. When sprayed on a surface, it can expand from 30 up to 100 times its liquid volume. It’s a very useful substance for filling cracks, crevices, walls, and other cavities—spots where air can easily pass through. As long as there are cracks or open spaces and an access point, you can use spray foam.
One of the most significant advantages of using spray foam is its ability to retain its shape over time. Unlike most insulation types, spray foam doesn’t degrade, sag, or compress. Its effectiveness in slowing down airflow will remain the same years after you install it.
Since it’s in liquid form that expands on the surface, it’s an effective way to reach nooks and crannies that aren’t accessible to other insulation types. This trait alone is responsible for making spray foam one of the most popular insulation types that you can use for your home.
Can You Recycle Spray Foam Insulation?
Most landfills and recycling companies won’t accept spray foam insulation because some of its chemicals can cause cancer, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t reuse it for other insulation projects. Although it’ll be more challenging to recycle spray foam than cellulose or fiberglass, it’s still possible to reuse it.
You can reuse it as insulation for other parts of your house. You can even use it as insulation for your barn or shed. If those aren’t an option for you, you can look for a recycling facility that accepts it.
These facilities may be harder to find because recycling spray foam will require specialized equipment for handling similar substances. They’ll mold it into other products or even turn them into other construction materials.
Another option that you have for recycling spray foam is to donate it to Habitat for Humanity. This organization accepts donations for construction materials that they can use to build new houses.
Fiberglass is an insulation type that mainly uses glass fibers with a mix of other raw materials, such as limestone, silica sand, and soda ash. It also uses other ingredients such as aluminum oxide, borax, feldspar, kaolinite, magnesite, and nepheline syenite during production.
Fiberglass, on its own, isn’t a useful material for home insulation, but through the process that it goes through during production, fiberglass gains the capacity to resist heat flow. With proper treatment, glass fibers become one of the most effective options for home insulation.
Aside from this, fiberglass also uses a fire-resistant mixture that makes it a good fire retardant. It’s safe for homes because it doesn’t pose any danger and doesn’t have hazardous chemicals that may cause harm to humans once it’s in place.
You only need to be careful when installing it, especially when handling fiberglass because it contains small glass particles that can irritate your skin or cause a rash. Inhalation is also a common problem when installing fiberglass insulation, which can cause several respiratory ailments.
Can You Recycle Fiberglass Insulation?
Fiberglass insulation is recyclable, but it doesn’t mean that you can leave it at the curb. In fact, even the facilities that accept fiberglass insulation have special rules for accepting it. It would be best to contact them before taking your insulation to their facility. There’s really nothing to worry about because most of these rules are only in place to keep their workers safe when handling it.
If you’re concerned with its recyclability, you can still reuse fiberglass for insulating your home. However, there’s a catch; professionals should install it because you need to do many things to take it out and reuse it for home insulation. Although an experienced homeowner can install fiberglass insulation, it would be better to invest a bit more because this will help you save more over time.
When it comes to recyclability, fiberglass is a better option than cellulose. Although there are some restrictions on recycling it, and not all areas will accept this material, it’s still renewable, and you can easily find a company that will handle it for you. In case this option isn’t ideal, you can also reuse it, which is another form of recycling and will even help you save more for home insulation.
Cellulose insulation is made from 75% to 85% recycled newsprint and 15% to 25% fire-retardant, non-toxic materials. It also uses less energy than most insulation.
Another environmental benefit of using cellulose is that it only contains biodegradable materials, making it a much greener option. So, if you’re looking for a way to reduce your carbon emissions, using cellulose insulation is one of the best ways to start.
You can install cellulose with either loose-fill or blown-in for new and existing homes. Aside from this, it doesn’t cost as much as other insulation types, making it an even better solution for many people. One of the most significant reasons you’d want cellulose insulation is that you can reuse or repurpose it on-site, meaning you don’t have to take it anywhere just to recycle it.
The only caveat to using cellulose insulation for your home is that you may want to consider hiring a professional to have it installed. The process involved in installing it and its long-term value (reusing or repurposing) makes it very important for you to have it professionally installed.
Can You Recycle Cellulose Insulation?
One of the most significant benefits of using cellulose insulation is it’s made from recycled materials. Other than that, you can invest a bit more to have it installed by professionals. By doing this, you’ll have the benefit of reusing or repurposing the insulation for future use.
Professional installation of cellulose in your house allows you to recover and reuse materials completely without waste. This characteristic, alone, is more than enough for many people to consider using it for home insulation. Not only is it cheap and uses less energy, but it’s highly reusable too.
Unfortunately, recycling cellulose isn’t possible because of the mixture that it has. Although it’s made from 75% to 85% newsprint, it also contains 15% to 25% fire-retardant materials that prevent it from being recycled. The good about it is that it’s highly reusable, which is another form of recycling and possibly an even better alternative.
Sheep’s Wool Insulation
Sheep’s wool has unique properties, making it a very useful insulating material. Usually, manufacturers combine it with 5% to 15% polyester adhesive, but some use 100% natural materials. This material uses renewable resources and is reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable. It’s one of the most sustainable materials that you can use for home insulation.
Aside from being an excellent insulation material, there are many other benefits to using sheep’s wool for home insulation. It’s highly resistant to pests, rodents and is naturally resistant to fire, mold, and mildew. These properties make it one of the best eco-friendly insulation materials that you can use for your home.
However, if you’re going to opt for sheep’s wool, you can expect to spend a bit more for it. Using it for your house will cost anywhere from $1.40 to $2.10 per square foot. Its cost is why some builders see sheep’s wool as a “sustainable novelty item.” But as more and more homeowners shift from using non-renewable insulation materials, the cost of sourcing and producing these materials will drop significantly.
Can You Recycle Sheep’s Wool Insulation?
Sheep’s wool is a renewable resource that doesn’t have any negative impact on the environment. You can send this material to any recycling facility, and they’ll gladly accept it. Sheep’s wool is very easy to convert into other products. In fact, you can recycle them yourself and turn them into car lining or pet beddings without going through various processes.
Sheep’s wool doesn’t use chemicals other than the polyester adhesive that holds it together, while some only use natural materials, making it very easy to recycle or reuse. But the essential part of its life cycle is that sheep’s wool is a biodegradable material that will naturally decompose over time.
Builders may think of it as a sustainable novelty item, but we can’t deny that sheep’s wool is an excellent insulation material. It will help you reduce your energy consumption and ensure you’re using highly sustainable materials that don’t have a negative environmental impact.
We all know cork as a material that we use for cork stoppers in wine bottles, and we’ve been using it for the last 5000 years. But did you know that it’s also a fascinating insulation material that you can use? That’s because it’s one of the very few that actually has a negative carbon footprint.
This insulation material uses bark from oak trees, which you can periodically harvest from oak trees without harming it, making cork a highly sustainable and renewable material. When it comes to insulating properties, cork has a slightly higher heat resistance than other insulation materials.
Aside from being a naturally recurring material, it’s also highly renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable. So there’s a lot for us to gain if we’re going to start using cork insulation instead of the usual materials that we’re using. Aside from this, it’s also an effective way to cancel noise, making your house a more comfortable and relaxing place to stay.
With all that said, many people might think that cork insulation is the ultimate insulation material that they can use. After all, it’s natural, toxin-free, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable, right?
However, insulating your house using cork will be a bit more expensive than other eco-friendly solutions. Sure, it has many excellent technical properties, but with a cost of about $2.4 per sq. ft. without labor and other materials, it’ll be quite a costly endeavor.
Can You Recycle Cork Insulation?
If you ask someone about the use of cork, they’ll most likely only have two answers: wine bottles and bulletin boards. But did you know that there are many other uses for cork, ensuring that it doesn’t end in a landfill? Recycling facilities can turn your cork insulation into other materials, such as flooring tiles, footwear, automotive gaskets, packing materials, and many other things.
If none of these things work, which is highly unlikely, considering that it’s effortless to recycle cork, you can also use it as a soil conditioner. Unlike other biodegradable materials that only decomposes over time, cork remains a very useful material even at the end of its cycle.
All of these things only mean that if you’re going to use cork insulation, you’re not only reducing your energy consumption, but you’re also a part of a recycling process that helps the environment. You can be sure that if you decide to use cork insulation, none of it will end up in a local landfill.
Proper Disposal of Insulation
You can recycle some insulation types, but it doesn’t mean that you can treat them like ordinary construction materials. There are some things that you need to consider, including the following:
- Always wear proper protective gear when working with insulation. Even though cellulose, fiberglass, and spray foam are safer than other insulation types, you still need to be cautious when handling them. Wear a full head covering (goggles and mask), long sleeves, and pants to stay safe while working. You also need to ensure that the area you’re working on is well-ventilated.
- Put the insulation in a separate, secure bag. You can’t just throw your insulation away in a trash bin like you would with other construction materials. If you’re planning to dispose of insulation, it would be best to place them in a separate secure bag with a clear label. Doing this will make it easier for the recycling facility to identify your trash and handle it properly.
- Contact your local waste authority before sending your waste out. Even if you put your waste in a separate bag, you still can’t leave it at the curb. Call your local waste authority for the facilities where you can take them. It ensures that your insulation will be disposed of properly and not cause harm to other people.
Insulation can reduce your carbon emission, and most of them use recycled materials. Although it’s possible to recycle them, it doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy to turn some of them into another product. The treatment processes that these materials go through can make it hard for the recycling facilities to process them.
Fortunately, most insulation materials have a long lifespan that makes it possible for you to repurpose or reuse them for other construction projects. Even if you can’t process some of them and turn them into another product, it’s still possible to reuse them, which is another form of recycling.
- USI Inc.: Is Old Insulation Recyclable or Reusable?
- REenergizeCO: Can Insulation Be Reused or Recycled?
- NIBusinessInfo: Recycling insulation from construction projects
- Hunker: How to Dispose of Fiberglass Insulation
- OJ Insulation: Can Insulation Be Recycled?
- SFGate: How to Recycle Foam Insulation
- RetroFoam of Michigan: What is Cellulose Insulation? What’s it Made of and How Does it Work?
- RetroFoam of Michigan: What is Fiberglass Insulation? How it Works and What it’s Made of
- BigCity Insulation Idaho: What Is Fiberglass Insulation Made Of?
- Attic Construction: 5 Benefits of Fiberglass Insulation
- Lewis Insulation: Fiberglass Insulation Maple Grove
- RetroFoam of Michigan: What is Spray Foam Insulation? What it’s Made of, How it Works, & More
- Paragon Protection: 9 Major Benefits of Spray Foam Insulation
- Allplan: Sustainable Building – Tried-and-Tested Recycled Insulation Materials
- In Habitat: 7 Eco-Friendly Insulation Alternatives for a Green Home
- Remi Network: Sheep’s Wool Insulation Seen as Sustainable Option
- Resource.co: Compostable Alternative to Plastic Packaging Uses Wool as Insulation
- Build with Rise: Insulating Homes with Sheep Wool
- Houz Buzz: Cork Insulation for the Home – Advantages and Disadvantages
- Frontiers in Materials: Cork – a renewable raw material: forecast of industrial potential and development priorities