AMELIA ISLAND, FLA.—Nine years ago the thought of recycling carpet back into itself or another product was minimal at best. Then the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) was born and, since that time, more than 1.7 billion pounds of post-consumer carpet (PCC) has been recycled, with an additional 300 million pounds diverted from the nation’s landfills.
In other words, in less than a decade, the country went from a handful of companies diverting and recycling a few million pounds per year to a nationwide effort that last year diverted 338 million of PCC and recycled 271 million pounds (80%) of it. And, despite the recession and slower-than-expected recovery period, the amount of materials collected have continued to increase. In 2010, the amount of collected material increased 9% over 2009 and the recycling rate jumped 10%. In fact, last year, the industry collected and recycled nearly six times more material than it did when the voluntary initiative began in 2002.
It was this kind of positive information that greeted a record number of attendees to the 9th Annual CARE Conference here, which also saw record numbers of first-timers including people from the hard surface sector and from outside the flooring industry entirely—clothing, mattresses, automotive. There was also a contingent of foreign attendees, including Chinese.
Those from outside the industry indicated attending because of interest in seeing if there are any synergies in cross-industry recycling initiatives as well as networking with collectors with hopes of creating working relationships.
Diane Martel, vice president of environmental planning and strategy for Tarkett, told FCNews there are a number of built-in synergies between industries with regard to some of the raw materials used. As such, she was attending the CARE meeting for the first time to see what kind of technologies are being used in the recycling efforts of carpets and if anything can be incorporated into her company’s efforts.
More importantly, Martel was one of those anxious to connect with collectors as a way to expand Tarkett’s take-back programs. “There is already a network of companies in place and many times the jobs they are dealing with include both hard and soft surface products.”
Dave Kitts, vice president, environment for Mannington Mills, noted even though his company has a vested interest in CARE through its commercial carpet division, the bulk of the company’s business is on the hard surface side. As a result, “We are starting to find cross-industry uses with different materials and CARE is a great impetus for this. And, as more industries cross-pollinate, we will be even more successful overall.”
A number of initiatives were mentioned about how other industries are using PCC but two stood out as prime examples of what can be done.
The first came from Patrick Doyle, CEO, and Kevin Guthard, vice president of sales and marketing, of Nyloboard, a manufacturer of such things as composite decking boards, who showed samples of NyloDeck, which has the look and feel of wood used for porches and patios, yet is made from 100% recycled carpet fibers.
Doyle said, the Covington, Ga. company uses a patented manufacturing technology that utilizes 100% recycled, post-consumer carpet fibers and VOC free bonding resin. “Our building products contain no wood, PVC or urea formaldehyde.”
The other item to make waves helped show that CARE’s efforts to get PCC into the plastic resins market is paying off. A couple of weeks prior to the conference Ford Motor Co. announced the cylinder head covers in four of its more popular vehicles—Escape, Fusion, Mustang and F-150—are now being made with 100% recycled carpet, making them the first automotive product of its kind, it stated.
During 2010, Ford said it saved more than 4.1 million pounds of carpet from landfills, the equivalent of nearly 154 football fields. It also amounted to recycling more than 985,000 yards of carpet and reducing the consumption of more than 430,000 gallons of oil.
“We didn’t have to make compromises for this application,” said Roy Ford, Ford’s engine sealing supervisor. “With a fixed raw material cost that delivers cost savings compared to oil, along with the green benefit, this application adds to the ways Ford is minimizing our impact on the environment.”
Brett Hinds, Ford’s manager of engine design, added the company is so pleased with the results “we’re continuing to look for ways to expand the use.”
Frank Hurd, CARE’s chairman said as a result of the efforts by the organization and the entrepreneurs involved in the effort, “CARE is doing things now that I didn’t think were possible when we started in 2002. For the first time, we are now recycling more post- consumer carpet into the plastic resins market. This is a market we expect to continue to grow.”
Beyond the products and applications mentioned at the conference, he pointed to the act of shearing the face fiber from carpet as an example of how technology has taken the initiative to new heights. “No one thought shearing carpet could be economically feasible. Now we have several members who are really making a difference with it.”
What makes the progess more impressive, Hurd added, is the fact “we are doing this in such tough economic times. It is a real credit to the entrepreneurs, who are the backbone of CARE, that we continue to make progress.”
More to do
Like many of the people in attendance, he was quick to note, despite all the positives, CARE “still has a tremendous amount of work to do.”
Two of the biggest issues being dealt with have more to do with organizational aspects of CARE as opposed to the actual diversion of carpet from landfills and finding uses for it.
One is the creation of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the carpet industry, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. This is the document that actually created CARE. The original was agreed to for a 10- year period and it expires in 2012.
Representatives have been working to craft a new MOU that will carry the organization and initiative through the next 12 years instead of 10 like the current one. Hurd said the idea is to allow for three “check points” at four-year intervals.
At each check point, he explained, “we will evaluate our progress and set appropriate targets based on market conditions.” Knowing what they know now compared to when the first MOU was created, Hurd said the proposed method will be more realistic in terms of setting and meeting appropriate diversion and recycling goals. This came about so if something similar to the recession happens again, the parties can come together and adjust their targets based on current economic conditions.
Werner Braun, president of the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI), who has been taking part in the MOU discussions, said while it is a long, difficult process as there are multiple groups/stakeholders involved and many new people since the first one was established, the group is “progressing nicely.”
Participants in the discussions said not only has there been a big learning curve to go through, due to new people involved, the negotiations are being paid much more attention by high-level executives compared to the first time around.
The second issue CARE has had to deal with is California’s Carpet Product Stewardship Act. Otherwise known as AB 2398, it is the first piece of legislation passed by a state designed to specifically keep carpet sold from going to the landfill. At the same time it encourages the recycle of post-consumer carpet either back into new carpet or as a secondary product by assessing a 5-cent stewardship fee on every square yard of carpet sold in the state. While the law allows for individual mills to deal directly with this, CARE has been designated by the legislation as the industry stewardship organization charged with implementing AB 2398’s goals.
As a result, the organization has spent thousands of dollars and man hours making sure as many people as possible are educated about the law and that everything is in place to handle both the collection and dispersion of money once it goes into effect on July 1.
Hurd said like CARE itself, the behind the scenes cooperation between industry competitors to ensure this goes off as effortlessly as possible “has been truly outstanding.” On top of that, he said because this is a taxation issue, the amount of details needed to go through making sure everything is charged or exempted accordingly was “far greater” than anything CARE has had to deal with.
Even though AB 2398 does not take effect for another two months, Gail Brice, vice president of The Carpet Recyclers in Fullerton, Calif., said her company, which announced it hit the 100 million pound mark in terms of collections and recycling PCC since it began in 2009, is already seeing positive affects from the legislation.
“We’re getting calls from retailers who we normally couldn’t get in the door with asking about 2398,” she explained. In addition the company has already created 60 jobs and expects that number to increase to 150 by the end of the year in efforts to gear up for new law. “I think this is going to be a big benefit to us, as well as everyone in California and the whole CARE network.”
Her feelings may be right, as many in the meeting noted AB 2398 is not only being watched closely by other states interested in enacting similar legislation, but by the federal government which is considering passing a regulation similar to what it has done with paint and batteries.