Thursday, April 30, 2009

CARE: Carpet America Recovery Effort

The annual Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) conference is being held as we speak in Lansdowne, Virginia, just outside our nation’s capital and, for the first time since its inception, I’m not in attendance. Which given my history of travel "horror" stories, would seem like a good thing.

However, I have to admit: the CARE conference is not only one of my favorite events of the year, but it is without a doubt the most productive conference I attend and I’m a little sad to not be partaking in it. The good news is that Bethany has a front row seat and will likely share with us her first CARE experience sometime next week.

CARE is the organization charged with making sure all this wonderful carpet our industry produces doesn’t wind up burdening our landfills and it has done a spectacular job since its inception back in 2002. The organization was born from a memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the carpet industry, state, federal and local governments and several non-governmental organizations.

The plan was to devise a strategy that would result in diverting 40 percent of the nearly 5 billion pounds of carpet that wind up in landfills annually by the year 2012. What it has done, is create an entire new industry.

Starting basically from scratch, CARE has helped orchestrate an infrastructure to collect discarded carpet and at the same time worked diligently with many others to create markets for products made from recycled carpet. And brother, this was the ultimate which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg scenario.

Basically this was the dealt hand: Why collect all this carpet if there were no outlets for it and how do you create outlets for it when there was no way to collect it in the first place?

CARE acts in the role as facilitator, advisor, information provider and a forum for a myriad of stakeholders trying to accomplish the monumental goal of 40 percent diversion. All of those folks are gathered this week to review progress from last year to this year, look at the hurdles currently in the way, and devise the path forward. And it’s really a wonderful process to behold. The question and answer section near the end of the conference is one of the most productive work sessions available and some of the ideas that come out of the brainstorming session are keys to taking the next step forward.

Over the years Dr. Bob Peoples has orchestrated the CARE organization with some pretty impressive help from a Board of Directors that includes Frank Hurd as the chair. Dr. Peoples has turned the mantle over and just recently the board hired Georgina Sikorski as executive director and plenty of people are really excited about getting behind her and continuing to move this industry forward.

As with all industries, including fledgling ones like this, CARE has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Between the housing market (key collection resource) and the automobile market (key outlet market for parts made from recycled carpet), it’s been a double-whammy, but I hear the diversion numbers are surprisingly better than originally thought.

During the first six years of measurement, CARE reported an accumulative diversion of over one billion pounds of carpet and has had a double-digit increase in each succeeding year. The last three years have seen over 225 million pounds of diversion annually and I would suspect they’ll surpass the 200 million mark this time despite the economic woes. [See CARE annual reports.]

In 2002 there were five recycling outlets for discarded carpet and today there are 59 with over half the states having one. In the beginning there was no such thing as a machine to recycle carpet and today there are companies making equipment designed to do just that. Technology has evolved that will instantly identify carpet types and the fibers used to make them. There are products and product lines being made specifically with post-consumer recycled carpet.

Times are certainly tough on all these wonderful people trying to make it in this business, but I hope folks will also realize they are doing much more than making products and a living: they are also making a difference.

~ James

NOTE: CRI is a member of CARE.

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1 comment:

Jim Gould said...

Like you, unfortunately I could not make this year's CARE meeting. While we may fall a little short of our optimistic targets, no one would complain about the major impact the organization has had on landfill diversion since inception. I look forward to keeping up the enthusiasm under Dr. Sikorski's leadership.

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