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Carpet America Recovery Effort: Upbeat mood despite PET challenge

May 12/19, 2014; Volume 27/Number 27

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 9.44.26 AMEven as the carpet recycling industry grapples with the rise in polyesters (PET) in face fibers, the good news is the rate of recycling has reached unprecedented numbers in the history of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).

Bob Peoples, executive director of CARE, said he was “delightfully surprised” by the mood at the 12th annual conference, especially given the ongoing PET challenge facing the industry. “It was really upbeat.”

Other attendees talked about the “good energy” in Seattle at the gathering of carpet mills, processors, collectors, and government and non-government officials.

CARE’s annual report revealed that members diverted 438 million pounds of post-consumer carpet (PCC) from U.S. landfills in 2013, up 25% over 2012. Peoples said these numbers are preliminary, but, if accurate, it would mark the largest year-over-year percentage increase since the organization began tracking such figures 12 years ago.

“When we started we had nothing except for a few people dabbling in carpet; there was no real infrastructure or understanding of the markets,” Peoples explained. “This was all built from zero.”

Conference format

There were more than 125 attendees at the conference, including at least a dozen exhibitors. This year, the exhibit space was situated in the back of the room where the general session was held, which allowed for more interaction. “The idea was to get folks engaged in dialogue and to increase interaction with the exhibitors,” Peoples said. “Everyone was happy with the format of the meeting. I didn’t hear one complaint.”

Sheri Gorman, vice president of marketing at flooring contractor R.D. Weis and a member of the CARE planning committee, agreed. “The exhibitors were much happier with the set up. It was a smart move to keep them in the same room.”

Thanks to increased interaction, there were several new ideas brought forth for recycling PCC. The initiatives included production of diesel fuel, use in asphalt and concrete, and a novel liquid state polymerization for improving or upgrading PET polymer properties.

Sean Ragiel, president and founder of CarpetCycle in Newark, N.J., said there is “still a positive buzz around the industry that this is something that should be done to keep carpet out of the landfills.” But, he cautioned, “it is becoming tougher to recycle carpet and make money.”

PET

The use of polyester grew dramatically during the economic downturn and has continued to increase. Ten years ago, it represented 10% of the carpet gathered by CARE, while today that number is closer to 40%. The issue for collectors and processors is there is currently no viable recycling mechanism in place, nor is there aftermarket potential for the polymer. Unlike nylon, which can be melted back to its polymer state and recycled into new carpeting or other products, polyester has a larger drop in many key performance attributes.

“I wouldn’t say we have [the PET] issue figured out by any stretch of the imagination,” Peoples said.

“It is a huge economic barrier for the collectors; [PET] is the big elephant in the room right now,” said Thomas Holland, president of commercial contractor and Starnet member Corporate Floors of Grapevine, Texas, and president of Texas Carpet and Construction Recycling (TCR), a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate Floors.

Gorman added there is “a little optimism” toward a solution to PET. “I still think we are three to five years away. If you go back to the beginning of recycled carpet, we didn’t know what to do with nylon 6 at one time.”

CARE established a special committee to look at if, or how, a program could be developed by mills to deal with the PET problem. The CARE committee submitted a proposal to the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) with an ultimate goal of finding a market-based solution for recycling PET. At press time, details on the inititive could not be disclosed “because it is in a sensitive time frame at the moment,” Peoples said.

CARE Awards

During the conference, Wellman Plastics Recycling (WPR) was named Recycler of the Year. A CARE partner and one of North America’s leading compounders and suppliers of engineering and thermoplastic resins, WPR collects more than 100 million pounds of post-consumer carpet per year and processes the material into nylon, polyester and polypropylene resin products. The company is also actively developing recycling solutions for non-nylon carpet, a challenging post-consumer material. In addition to its landfill diversion efforts, WPR has restarted and invested in several key recycling facilities.

Also at the awards, CARE named Thomas Holland Person of the Year. His company, TCR, was established in 2007 as the first carpet recycling entity in Texas. The organization now has a 32,000-square-foot facility where it regularly sorts, bales and grinds carpet from dozens of companies.

In 2013, TCR diverted more than 1.6 million square feet (equivalent to 803,856 pounds) of carpet from landfill. TCR also finds responsible end-of-life solutions for VCT, ceiling tiles and other post-construction materials.

“These winners aren’t just good stewards of the environment, they accept historical challenges for carpet recycling and respond with tangible solutions for our industry,” Peoples said.

In other news, Brendan McSheehy has been named chairman of the CARE board of directors with Joe Yarbrough serving as vice chairman.

“Our organization is challenged with approaching the multi-stakeholder dynamics of our industry and producing long-term sustainable solutions for carpet recovery and recycling,” McSheehy said. “CARE has set ambitious goals and objectives, and I hope to offer the leadership necessary to put credible mechanisms in place to reach our mission.”