Can Insulation Be Recycled? (Explained and Important Facts)


The world is becoming increasingly interested in the ecological impact of home improvement materials. So when your old home insulation becomes redundant and you remove it, what do you do with it? Can you recycle your home insulation?

Not all types of home insulation can be recycled. Fiberglass, denim, rockwool, and PIR are some of the most insulation types that can be recycled. On the other hand, spray foam and cellulose insulation cannot be recycled. Specifically, cellulose can’t be recycled, given its dominant composition of benzene and petroleum.

Every homeowner’s dream is to endlessly reuse their insulation, but there is more to know about this. Which insulation type is most compatible with the environment, and how long can your insulation stay before it starts decomposing? Why can’t cellulose insulation be recycled when fiberglass can be?

These are the questions we will answer in this guide.

Can Fiberglass Insulation Be Recycled?

Fiberglass stands out for being one of the most reusable insulation types. Fundamentally, fiberglass has a notable percentage composition of recyclable materials.

This increases the possibility of transforming your fiberglass into other secondary applications, especially into planks that can deputize for wood.

That said, not just anyone can efficiently recycle fiberglass. If you want to take the professional route, you can contact companies like American Fiber Green Products, specializing in recycling fiberglass.

From the recycled product, you can construct sea walls and picnic tables.

Can PIR Insulation Be Recycled?

PIR is fully known as Polyisocyanurate. While you may not have heard much about it in home insulation applications, PIR insulation is a common sight in industrial construction.

Before PIR, polyurethane boards were chiefly deployed for such constructional deployments, especially when rigid thermal insulation was required.

Contemporary PIR insulation is durable, efficiently resisting decomposition, thanks to its premium mechanical strength.

PIR can be recycled, but only professionally. This is because of the hi-tech processes involved in reformulating PIR insulation.

When appropriately executed, recycled PIR insulation can be used in producing train and truck components. In other instances, reused PIR can be used for acoustically insulating floors.

Can Foam Insulation Be Recycled?

It is almost impossible to recycle foam insulation. This is because foam insulation contains lots of petroleum and benzene. Benzene is particularly concerning given its notoriety for triggering cancer.

Also, since over 95% of spray foam insulation is air, it becomes tough to store it.

In the United States, you will struggle to find residential cycling programs (or even landfills) that will accept your foam insulation from you.

While recycling your foam insulation is hard, there are clever ways you could use such insulation. You could adapt such foam insulation for exterior insulation.

This could be insulating your pet house or even your barn. If you are lucky enough to have a neighbor or friend with such insulation needs, you smartly barter your foam insulation for some dollars.

In extreme situations, you can reach out to dedicated recycling online platforms like Nationwidefoam.com, Dart.biz, and Earth911.com. They could arrange to pick up your foam insulation and specially reprocess it.

Can Rockwool Insulation Be Recycled?

Rockwool insulation is one of the most readily recyclable mineral wool insulation out there. Their stone wool insulation can be recycled instead of being dumped in landfills.

The Rockwool Group (manufacturers of this insulation) operate a specialized recycling program for users of rockwool insulation.

Here, the brand runs recycling plants where you can send your rockwool to get it recycled.

The most notable recycling plant Rockwool runs is located in Bridgend, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

This plant accepts your rockwool stone insulation provided you packaged it appropriately, and the stone wool insulation is not contaminated.

Can Cellulose Insulation Be Recycled?

Cellulose is reputed for its eco-friendliness. It has a predominant composition of recycled materials.

However, cellulose can’t be recycled. Its chemical content – together with recycled paper – borrows cellulose its characteristic resistance to fire. The sad thing is these chemicals can’t be removed and recycled.

This makes recycling cellulose insulation almost undoable.

Which Insulation is Most Environmentally Friendly?

Cellulose ranks as one of the most environmentally friendly insulation types. At least 80% of traditional cellulose insulation is made of recycled content.

Denim insulation is another insulation type renowned for its ecological compatibility. Fundamentally, denim insulation is made chiefly from recycled remnants of cotton used in making clothes.

Stone mineral wool is also eco-friendly. It contains over 70% of recycled material. Brands like Rockwood often go as far as making their stone wool from 90% of recycled materials. This makes them substantially eco-friendlier.

Lastly, Hemp insulation is worth mentioning on the list of the most environmentally friendly insulation types. It is made from purely renewable content, with hemp boards (and batts) being easily recyclable.

How is Insulation Recycled?

There are several ways to recycle your insulation, depending on the type and installation mode.

Depending on the insulation, you can reuse off-cuts from your insulation with minimal need for reprocessing.

In some cases, you can’t directly redeploy what you retrieved from your insulation. Then, you may need to harness recollection programs from the insulation manufacturers.

Some of these manufacturers have specialized take-back programs where you – the original owner of the returned insulation – can reclaim such after being reprocessed.

In other situations, you may be compensated for such.

Recycling insulation is yet a budding technological development. There are not many recycling plants that can easily take your used insulation from you.

Most of the existing recycling facilities have restrictions on the type of insulation they take back. Typically, insulation that has been contaminated, maybe from bitumen or mortar, is rarely collected back.

Also, insulation doesn’t cost that much to invest heavily in its recycling. This has discouraged manufacturers from investing significantly in recycling insulation from their customers.

How Long Does It Take for Insulation to Decompose?

Once again, there is no universal lifespan (before decomposition) for insulation. In most cases, how long your insulation takes to decompose depends on its material composition and where it is deployed.

Take, for example, insulation types like cellulose. It has a higher propensity to decomposition. It is not unnatural to notice your cellulose decomposing by the 20th year – or even the 16th year following installation.

Others, like fiberglass, rarely decompose. Fiberglass – thanks to its inorganic composition – has remarkable resistance to decomposition. 

Despite the environment it is deployed (chemical nature and atmospheric elements), microorganisms can’t break down fiberglass.

This explains why you may never notice any decomposition in your fiberglass insulation – in the absence of damages – in 100 years (if you stay that long).

Mineral wool doesn’t last that long. How soon your mineral wood insulation deteriorates depends on whether it is made from rock wool, slag wool, or glass wool.

Generally, this insulation type can last as long as 30 years before any sign of decline.

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