I did something new last week. I attended the annual conference of the Carpet America Recovery Effort, a group otherwise known as CARE that is dedicated to recycling carpet, diverting used carpet from landfills, and finding markets for products made from recycled carpet.
The first thing I learned is that carpet recyclers are, as far as I can tell, very nice people. Friendly and outgoing, each carpet recycler I met struck me as a combination of entrepreneur, mad scientist, and roustabout. Each seemed set on living his or her own real-life “rags-to-riches” story in every sense of the word.
I learned that recycling carpet is not easy. It requires someone with the stomach for getting their hands dirty and working under tight schedules. For example, during big Manhattan office building renovations, Sean Ragiel’s company CarpetCycle, goes in at night before any of the other work crews, so they can get the carpet out clean. The office has to be back up and running by start of business Monday, so Sean has to have crews willing to work round the clock on weekends.
Carpet recycling requires significant investments in machinery, storage space, and transportation. Separating the various components in carpet – the fiber, backing, adhesive, etc. - calls for sophisticated technologies. Profits are squeezed by localities’ tipping fees on one side and the price of oil on the other. And to top it off, when carpet styles change and carpet manufacturers put a new fiber type out on the market, recyclers have to adapt quickly to find new product outlets and new ways to extract value from the process. There aren’t any easy answers.
But there are promising developments. And reasons to celebrate.
First, CARE has a new executive director, Georgina Sikorski, whose qualifications are impressive, to say the least. Second, the CARE Annual report showed that, while recycling and diversion declined in the past year, these activities are still robust, particularly when compared to the downturn in the economy overall.
An excellent group of individuals and companies was recognized as winners in this year’s CARE awards. Mohawk Industries was named Recycler of the Year for their GreenWorks Post-Consumer Recycling Center. For his exemplary leadership on the CARE Board, Brendan McSheehy, Jr., of Universal Fiber Systems was named CARE Person of the Year.
In just its second year, the EPA/CARE Innovations in Carpet Recycling Award recognizes innovation in a product containing post-consumer carpet content or a process that diverts substantial amounts of post-consumer carpet from landfills. This year, the award was shared by Shaw Industries' Evergreen Nylon Recycling facility, and Los Angeles Fiber Company and its president Ronald Greitzer. LA Fibers is marketing a new felted carpet underlayment made of 100% recycled post-consumer carpet.
Several presentations focused on new and innovative end-uses for post-consumer carpet. KeLa Energy’s biomass fuel combines coal dust with recycled carpet to produce a fuel that burns hotter and more efficiently than coal. Kela Energy is going online this summer with a plant located in Eastern Kentucky.
Ron Simonetti spoke about his company, Modular Carpet Recycling, that has developed a small, regionally-based carpet processing center that can separate carpet into its component parts in a clean, efficient process. A pilot plant is currently operational, and future plans are to expand nationally.
Polar Energy has two plants in operation producing fillers for carpet backings using material recovered from recycled carpet. Their C2C Fillers come from the backing, rather than the face fiber of the carpet, and are immediately adaptable for use by carpet manufacturers.
I had a good time at the CARE conference, and I learned just enough to know that I have a lot more to learn about carpet recycling. But without a doubt, the efforts going towards the responsible disposal or reuse of post-consumer carpet are impressive. It’s all part of carpet’s capacity for sustainability, that, with a lot of work from the people behind CARE, will continue to grow.
Also read CARE: Carpet America Recovery Effort.
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