Carpet: Latest recycling initiatives

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Nov. 4/11 2013 Volume/number 14

By Ken Ryan

The carpet industry has maintained a reputation as a leader in landfill diversion by virtue of its recycling efforts. Not only are groups like the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) spearheading the movement, but individual manufacturers are also taking innovative approaches in their recycling initiatives.

Bob Peoples, who resumed his role as executive director of CARE in August 2012 after a four-year hiatus, said the flooring industry continues to make great strides in recycling through commitment and innovation. “Recycling carpet is tough, but we as an industry are making progress, learning and modifying our approaches to ensure success,” he said. “Smart entrepreneurs are tackling the challenges and innovating, and doing it well.”

Peoples said he has never been busier as he focuses on major recycling initiatives in California and elsewhere. CARE serves as the carpet stewardship organization for AB 2398 (California Carpet Stewardship Law), an effort aimed at increasing the landfill diversion and recycling of the post-consumer carpet (PCC) generated in California. According to CARE, since July 2011 the program has kept more than 183 million pounds of carpet out of California landfills.

On Oct. 28, CARE submitted a revised plan for AB 2398 (which requires state approval) to further incentivize and reward recycling efforts. The proposals include a new growth incentive that will pay 10 cents for every pound of carpet that is recycled over and above the stated goal (8.5 million pounds) for a financial quarter, and a non-nylon incentive that pays 12 cents per pound for the use of type 1 non-nylon materials in the next stage of the supply chain.

Type 1 represents processed output that has an ash content of less than 25% by weight and is considered a higher value output for the marketplace.

“I think the odds of the plan we just submitted being rejected are very small, thus I expect it to be implemented,” Peoples said. “In fact, many elements of the revised plan are in full swing already. Most of the changes are to drive an increase in both collection and output of recycled material. We have made some excellent progress on outlining new ways to incentivize both recovery and output in California. At the same time we now have identified a variety of approaches to deal with the increase in PET in the PCC flow.

“We have a full court press on PET right now, and I believe we will find answers. It will take a bit of time, but we are on it.”

To advance its efforts in California, CARE hired Brennen Jensen to manage the California Carpet Stewardship Program (see story on page 5). “California is a bellwether [for recycling], and with a law in place California takes a lot of attention, especially because its creating something new,” Peoples said. “The fact we have just announced the new hire will aid greatly in having someone who resides in the state and will allow me to do more outside of California to support recycling.”

On another front, CARE has submitted a request for proposal (RFP) to fund a project at a California research university that advances the PET recovery and recycling programs in the state.

The two-track project will a) explore methods of cleaning and/or the depolymerization of fiber that has been harvested from used carpets; and b) find new end uses for recycled polyester (rPET) that has either been cleaned and/or depolymerized. “This project will focus on product uses and identify new markets for rPET, such as rPET as a feedstock for 3-D printing or rPET for use in the apparel or building industries,” Peoples said.

Industry initiatives

The flooring industry’s largest mills continue to push innovation and make significant investments in their recycling operations. Mohawk, for example, invested $180 million for its Continuum process, its largest financial outlay since the launch of SmartStrand in 2006.

Continuum is a proprietary PET process that the company is betting will transform polyester carpet by creating a cleaner process, cleaner product and, ultimately, cleaner planet. The company believes Continuum provides the most eco-friendly PET filament fiber yet. Boasting up to 50% recycled content, the production of Mohawk’s PET filament offerings divert over 3 billion bottles from the landfill each year. Utilizing less production energy than nylon, the Continuum process is playing its part in reducing the world’s dependence on oil.

David Duncan, senior vice president of marketing and sales, said market reaction since the September 2013 announcement has been “phenomenal.”

The new operation is scheduled for completion in the first half of 2014; however, the first Continuum-enhanced products are already in some dealers’ showrooms. “Retailers feel confident because they are selling a cleaner, greener, better-performing PET carpet that will lead to a more satisfied consumer,” Duncan said.

Shaw, which has recycled 600 million pounds of PCC since 2006, continues to evaluate new processes and technologies in its quest to increase recycling efforts, according to David Wilkerson, corporate director of sustainability and product stewardship.

“On average, 80% of the carpet we reclaim is recycled into new carpet,” Wilkerson said.

When reclaimed material can’t be recycled into new carpet, Wilkerson said Shaw diverts it to reuse in carpet cushion manufacturing, erosion and sediment control—even in automobile parts manufacturing. Carpet that cannot be recycled back into new products or other commodities is converted to energy, which becomes an alternative power supply for Shaw’s two adjacent carpet manufacturing facilities.

In addition to expanding its reclamation and recycling network, Wilkerson said the company works with large commercial customers to help reclaim and recycle their post-consumer carpet. “Regardless of brand, when a customer installs Shaw carpet in an office or institution, we reclaim the existing used carpet and then, depending upon the carpet’s ingredient materials, find the highest and best channel for keeping that carpet out of the landfill,” he said. “And when a customer installs our EcoWorx product in its place, we also provide a global environmental guarantee, assuring the customer that when their new product reaches the end of its useful life, we’ll be there to collect and recycle it.”

Interface, which has been a pioneer in carpet recycling, recently announced its Net-Works program, which involves recapturing and recycling discarded nylon fishing nets into carpet tile in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), a conservation charity, and supplier Aquafil USA. Interface has been building the program model now for just over a year, and it has collected some 35,000 pounds of net waste with the help of villagers near Danajon Bank in the Philippines—one of six double-barrier reefs in the world.

Net-Works established a community-based supply chain for collecting the nets, which are sold to Aquafil and converted into yarn through its Econyl regeneration system. The resulting modular carpet collection is called Net Effect, which contains up to 81% recycled content with 100% of recycled content yarn. The yarn is created from various sources, including used carpet fluff harvested from Interface’s ReEntry program as well as the collected commercial fishing nets.

Milliken, a founding member of CARE, began its landfill-diversion efforts more than a decade ago, when the company issued a “No Carpet to Landfill” pledge. In 2012, it revamped its program as part of a corporate strategy to become more actively involved in finding alternate sources for waste carpet.

An example of the company’s progress is Milliken’s Carpet Landfill Diversion Program. “An important goal of sustainability is to stay local,” said Philip Ivey, strategic sustainability leader with Milliken’s global floor covering division. “So we work with certified CARE collectors in the area to find the highest and best use for the material we are asked to collect, whether that’s carpet-to-carpet recycling, waste-to-energy, donations to charity or other uses.”

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