CARE: Celebrating a decade of national carpet recycling

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Finding aftermarket potential for PET is next frontier

by Matthew Spieler

San Diego—While members of the carpet industry had been working on ways to divert products from the landfill and recycle them into either new carpet or another end-use product since the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) was created 10 years ago that things really began to happen.

With more than 120 people from all sectors of the recycling effort in attendance for the 10th annual CARE conference, the group paid tribute to its first decade while looking ahead at what is still needed to be accomplished to ensure the voluntary initiative continues.

“There’s been a lot of twists and turns, with some fabulous things and some trials and tribulations,” noted Werner Braun, CARE’s chairman. “But thanks to the dedication and hard work of the people here and many more over the years, we established a brand new industry, one we wanted to create from the start. And that is a market-based solution to keep post-consumer carpet out of landfills. Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of people, new technologies and new equipment have allowed for the creation of many products that didn’t exist before CARE.”

Braun, who is credited with coming up with the organization’s name, said a number of these things by themselves would make what the industry has done admirable, but combined, make the achievement “incredibly amazing: There was nothing like CARE when it started, so we had no roadmap. It is strictly a voluntary effort. And, while still in its infancy, it survived the worst economic downturn in our lifetime.”

When put together, the result is a national effort that has diverted more than 2.3 billion pounds of post-consumer carpet from being thrown away as well as helped spearhead the creation of a landmark bill in California—AB 2398—which calls for the collection of an after-sale consumer surcharge of 5 cents a square foot on new carpet purchases with the money going toward incentivizing recycling innovation.

Today, CARE has more than 400 members which consists of over 100 collection sites across the country. Of these, 75 collectors and processors have signed up for a new CARE Certified Collector program, which was officially launched at the conference.

Thomas Holland of Texas Carpet and Construction Recycling introduced the program, as “a direct result of input from last year’s CARE conference.” The idea behind the initiative is to help collectors be successful. “We wanted to elevate the network and distinguish those companies that meet certain criteria of professionalism and business ethics.”

While CARE does not want to be a policing agency, “We do want to ensure collectors are taking care of basic things, such as insurance, taxes, payroll, state and federal regulations and so on,” he explained. Holland noted certified collectors also have to sign a code of conduct which was developed from the one used by Starnet, whose flooring contractor members play a large role in the landfill diversion process.

Beyond showing the world they are reputable businesses, he said the certified collector program offers members an array of benefits, including a product exchange forum, healthy discounts on such things as payroll processing, office and business equipment, phone service, freight services, exclusive networking opportunities and a host of which were still being developed.

“We’re all in this together,” Holland said, “and this type of program can create better information across the entire network and raise the quality of everyone.”

Ron Greitzer of Los Angeles Fiber said he was “really impressed with what has been done” and encouraged collectors to check the newly revised map on CARE’s website “to make sure all the filters are accurate and working the best for your company’s needs.”

The product exchange forum is something Holland feels will be a major piece of the program and help CARE continue its quest to open up markets for post-consumer carpet. “There are many things out there and the idea is to get the info that is specific to carpet recycling without having to make 50 calls. The concept is you will be able to easily find who has what and who is looking for what.”


Poly needs a home

While all indicators are pointing to more potential than ever to not just divert but recycle carpet into other uses, there is what some called an elephant in the room: polyester (PET).

Since the economic downturn, the use of polyester has grown dramatically and shows no signs of slowing. The problem for collectors and processors is there is currently no viable recycling mechanism in place or aftermarket potential for the polymer.

Frank Endrenyi of Assets Unlimited and chairman of CARE’s PET Opportunities sub team, said the organization has “looked at a half dozen areas to help figure out what to do with the growing amount of polyester coming into the marketplace.” From engineered resins to fillers for roadbeds and other situations to non-wovens and more, “the CARE board has given us the go ahead to investigate further.”

Ron Sherga of SherResults said similar to finding solutions for nylon, the key is looking at and working with the plastics industry. “You’re all in the plastics industry, because unless you turn it into a scratching post, you’re not dealing with carpet, but plastic.”

Plastics is an extremely diverse industry, he noted, from different polymers all the way through sub-markets within each, such as automobiles, or whether the product will come in contact with food. “There are many areas to go into but each has a different quality factor and is its own market with its own requirements such as tolerances, quality and so on.”

That is why when dealing with trying to find sustainable solutions, Sherga said a person or company needs to think long term and not just a few years down the road.

Finding a solution to PET is one area where CARE has shown how much it has matured. Bob Pilotti of ECM Plastics said when he first started attending CARE meetings at the beginning, he was the only one from the plastics industry in the room. “There are at least a half dozen representatives at this meeting. That’s encouraging and shows what CARE is doing is gaining recognition.”

Braun said he is confident CARE members will soon find a solution for PET. “Two years ago, we were talking about nylon 6,6 being a problem and today it is no longer. We figured out how to use it and make it viable. I’d be willing to bet if at next year’s meeting we weren’t talking about a solution for polyester.”

Sean Ragiel of CarpetCycle agreed with Braun’s assessment. “When I started, we could recycle about three out of every 10 pounds coming in; now it is up to 8.5. Polyester is still very difficult and growing in popularity, but I’m confident we will be able to meet the challenge.”

(Editor’s note: CARE and California officials spent part of the meeting discussing the implementation of AB 2398 and what will be required for it to be successful in the long run, as well as make it a model for other states. Due to space constraints, FCNews will cover this topic in a later edition.)

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