The economic slump has taken its toll on the carpet recycling industry but financial gain is not the sole reasons companies do it.
Carpeting is one of the last things most people think of when recycling is brought up, but carpets are a big problem for landfills. An estimated more than 5.6 billion pounds of carpet are placed in landfills each year.
As with most things, though, the slump in the economy has had an effect on these recycling initiatives, and 2008 was a year when the entire effort took a step back, according to the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), a voluntary, joint industry-government effort that promotes recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduction in the amount of waste carpet going to landfills.
According to a recent CARE report, over the course of 2008 there was an 11.4 percent decrease in the recycling of post-consumer carpet from the previous year, and a .8 percent decrease in the amount diverted from landfills. Overall, this helped constitute a decrease from 292.4 million pounds down to 243.4 million pounds of carpet recycled or diverted from 2007 to 2008.
“Even though we did not achieve growth in 2008, we did not suffer the significant decline some feared,” wrote Frank Hurd, chairman of CARE, in the forward to the 2008 annual report. The downturn is due to factors including a decrease in demand for post-consumer carpet, lower pricing for polymer end-products of recycling and a downturn in the housing and automotive sectors, two areas where much post consumer product is used. One issue that makes the process more expensive is the costs associated with collection and processing methods in the types of materials used for carpet creation – Nylon 6 and Nylon 66.
Of the two, Nylon 66 is much more difficult to process in an economical way. Exhibitors Carpet Service, based out of Dalton, Ga., is one of a select few nationwide that has thus far developed a proprietary process able to do so, and the environmental benefit is invaluable.
“Recycling is kind of an internal part of our business,” said Bruce Glicksberg, vice president at Exhibitors Carpet Service. The amount that has been sent to them for recycling is down from previous years, he said, and there aren’t many financial benefits to offering recycling services.
“It’s very expensive, and people have told me it would cost over a million dollars to do this, but I found a way to put odds and ends together and found a way that was economical for us to do it,” he added.
An entrepreneur at heart, Glicksberg said the company usually breaks even in the process, but that isn’t the point of it.
“You can’t believe how much carpet is destroyed,” Glicksberg said. “We do some shows where we have 30 semi-loads of carpet that’s all garbage, and you have to call the garbage company to come over. You know, everybody wants to separate their bottles and their cardboard at their house, and all of the sudden you go to your warehouse and you’re just calling the garbage company every day.”
Nylon 6 is a different story and has been much easier to process for recycling. As such, large industrial recyclers have formed taking the materials in from other companies or consumers and processing the material into plastics usable for other purposes. Shaw Industries Group, Inc, a leading carpet manufacturer and floor covering provider, has a large post-consumer carpet recycling initiative, which to date has recycled more than 200 million pounds of Nylon 6.
But Shaw, like other companies that process carpet into post-consumer plastics, can’t do it all alone. It relies on other companies and their recycling programs to get that material.
Since it’s official start in June, Atlanta-based Brumark Total Flooring Solutions’ Carpet Recycling Program has recycled more than 500,000 square feet of material. The program is set for expansion, not only through aggressively diverting carpet from landfills, but in adjusting carpet production methods to cut waste.
Ultimately, it’s about making a difference. “We do this completely as a service to our industry and for the betterment of society,” said Stacy Barnes, national sales manager of Brumark. “We did not pursue this for business reasons – we pursued it for earth reasons.”