West Sonoma County's Ceilume wins North Bay Maker Award
Faced with the dilemma of how to satisfy customer demand for ceiling and wall finishes with recycled-material content, and the fact that demand is low for recycled scrap, Ceilume began to recycle its own scrap into new products – including new lines of 2x2 foot and 2x4 foot panels that contain from 98 to 100 percent recycled content.
Graton-based Ceilume, a division of Empire West, Inc., is the leading domestic producer of thermoformed ceiling and wall panels molded from thin vinyl sheets in dozens of colors and decorative styles – including perforated panels that help reduce ambient noise by as much as 85 percent.
These modular, standardized products can be installed in glue-applied or suspended drop-in ceilings, as light-transmitting coverings for luminous ceiling lights, backsplashes behind sinks and kitchen counters, and even as ornamental wall coverings. The company ships its products to homeowners and commercial customers across the U.S. and overseas.
“Until our recent recycling innovation, the company used vinyl made solely from raw material because commercial recyclers were ‘downcycling’ Ceilume’s scrap by combining it with lower quality scrap from other sources. This can affect quality, rigidity, appearance and longevity of recycled vinyl products,” said President Ed Davis. “The solution seems obvious in retrospect, but figuring out how to reuse our own scrap was not simple, since our ceilings and walls come in a wide range of colors. When we mixed multi-pigment color scrap into new sheet material, the result was a random color that varies in appearance from very light gray to almost black. While these gray panels are made from 100 percent recycled materials, we thought the inconsistent color would limit customer appeal.”
The breakthrough came when the company realized that the gray material could be used as a substrate for the thin (1/30,000 of an inch) decorative films Ceilume applies to create faux wood-grain and metallic panels in bronze, copper and tin finishes incorporating 98 percent recycled content in the backing.
“Designers strive to make their buildings more sustainable by using recycled materials to reduce the environmental burden of extracting and processing raw materials.”
Today Ceilume separates its scrap vinyl by colors and stores it in large tote bins for inclusion in future production runs. Davis expects the recycled content will increase the popularity of Ceilume’s products among architects, homeowners and builders.
According to Davis, “Our panels solve many architectural challenges because they are lightweight, acoustical, easy to install, Class A rated for fire safety, and unaffected by water. In addition, they are cleanable, durable, and mold and mildew resistant, as well as FDA and USDA compliant for use in food preparation areas.”
Using recycled material is also encouraged through green building initiatives such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council, and by government programs including the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Ceilume’s products contribute to gaining LEED credits.
“Ceilume’s recycling process is akin to drilling an oil well right here in the North Bay, because we are reusing petrochemicals without depleting natural resources,” He added. “To our surprise, we found that some customers are even buying the gray panels without the faux finishes, and designers like the fact that they are made totally from recycled material.
“We continue to develop new ways of meeting the needs of our customers while also finding solutions to help protect the environment,” Davis said.