Thursday, August 29, 2013

Environmental Product Declarations Embraced by Industry

Swiss architect Walter R. Stahel first introduced the notion of a circular economy in the 1970s. Stahel was one of the forerunners of the sustainability movement, advocating that the industrial economy did not have to be tied to mindless consumption and waste. Instead, Stahel proposed that resources could not only be recovered at the end of their lives, but even upgraded.

In 2002 architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart brought the concept of circular product lifecycles to the wider public in their aptly titled book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things. At its core, Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design, as opposed to Cradle-to-Grave (i.e. landfill) design, advocates for designs to be modeled on nature’s regenerative cycles.

Using the analogy of a colony of ants, McDonough and Braungart propose that productivity does not have to be associated with environmental degradation. Instead, the two authors illustrate a world in which designing for abundance actually bolsters the beauty, health and productivity of our ecosystems.

Transitioning decades of products and services designed in a linear modality into a true Cradle-to-Cradle economy is going to take time. That said, many companies who have embraced the holistic mindset are beginning to (re)design products and services to be as inherently good as possible.

One of the principle tools to evaluate a product or service’s environmental impact is Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Through LCA an existing or future product or service undergoes a comprehensive assessment that considers its environmental impacts all the way from materials extraction, processing and manufacturing to use and disposal. The breadth of information this analysis requires can be hard to come by so LCA is only as useful as the amount, validity, and relevancy of data available.

       , 2010
Despite its complexities LCA is growing in popularity. One of the main reasons for this is Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). EPDs originated in Europe in 1993 (International Standards Organization 14025) and use LCA analysis as a way to offer businesses and consumers a reliable way to make quantifiable comparisons of the environmental impact of different goods and services. In order to ensure that all products are evaluated in a consistent manner, Product Category Rules (PCRs) are developed, specific to industry, and outline what data is to be used in the LCA. Analyses are then regulated by a third-party to ensure a level, objective, playing field.

With respect to the flooring industry, in 2009 Interface became the first North American company to register an EPD for its ConvertTM line of products. At that time, president of InterfaceFLOR division, David Hobbs, said,

“We were eager to create and have verified an EPD to raise the bar, move our industry and provide the model and foundation for our competitors to follow. Ultimately this will allow our customers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of carpet products. Now our competitors need to get on board and do their own EPDs” (Greenbiz, 2009).

The industry did just that; most recently in June of this year J+J Flooring Group and Mannington Commercial completed EPDs on a variety of their products (NSF, 2013).

The popularity of EPDs is expected to grow with the upcoming release of LEED V4 Green Building Rating System Standards. In contrast to the Materials & Resources section of LEED 2009 where credits were awarded according to single attributes of materials, such as recycled content, LEED V4 applies lifecycle thinking; subsequently introducing and endorsing the concepts of EPDs.

As carpet is found in almost every building or home, CARE looks forward to seeing how the introduction of EPDs will influence carpet recycling in the coming years.  It is interesting to note, when CARE started in 2002 there was virtually no closed loop recycling of carpet. Today nearly 30% of all carpet that is recycled goes back into carpet face fiber and backing. Ultimately, whether or not carpet goes directly back to its cradle, the days of carpet to landfill are dwindling!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Updated Carpet Recycling Plan Rejected by CalRecycle

AB2398 is the first mandatory carpet stewardship program in the country. As an extended producer responsibility program (EPR), the bill requires all manufacturers of carpet sold in California to 1) register with CARE, 2) assess a fee to their customers of an additional 5-cents per square yard of carpet purchased, and 3) design and implement a stewardship program using the collected funds.

At the bill’s inception CARE was elected by the industry to be the umbrella Carpet Stewardship Organization to all manufacturers.  Accordingly CARE was tasked with the preparation and implementation of a Carpet Stewardship Plan that would appropriately and effectively address the bill’s goal in its critical early years; namely, to increase the diversion and recycling of post-consumer carpet in the state of California.

Since AB2398 was and still is the first legislation of its kind, CARE has had the exciting opportunity and challenge of developing an implementation plan from scratch. One of the key thoughts behind AB2398 was that the best way to encourage carpet recycling would be to maximize the outlets for PCC, essentially increasing the diversion of carpet from landfills by working from market-based solutions backwards.

AB2398’s focus on incentives is unlike other extended producer responsibility programs. Specifically the existing Carpet Stewardship Plan (conditionally approved by CalRecycle in January 2012) pays processors 6 cents for every pound of Type-1 product (high value) sold and shipped and 3 cents for every pound of Type-2 (low value).

Since the Carpet Stewardship Plan went into action in July of 2011 CARE has worked with 80 registered manufacturers and 11 registered processors to divert roughly 210 million pounds of post-consumer carpet from landfills and increase recycling output from 8% to over 15% in Q2 2013. Furthermore, greater than 90% of all recycled output is high value material.  That said, while the plan has led to substantial success, there is recognized room for improvements.  

Recycled Output by Type as a Percent of Diversion

Annual Report to CalRecycle, July 2013
In the past months CARE submitted both a revised Carpet Stewardship Plan and an Annual Report to CalRecycle and various public/stakeholder meetings were held to review their content. While CalRecycle acknowledged the significant recent Plan modifications highlighted in the Annual Report, statute only allows Staff to rule on the actual Plan content. At the most recent meeting this past Tuesday, August 20th, CalRecycle specifically organized their concerns into seven principle issues: goals and baseline, market incentives, amounts of funds in reserve, financial assurance, consumer convenience in rural counties, California staff and accounting and auditing standards. 

Staff acknowledged that many of these issues have been addressed in the recent Plan’s incentives and CARE has been given sixty days to address Staff’s concerns and produce a revised Plan. Some of the key points CalRecycle would like to see CARE focus on are:
1.    More clarity in how the sales-based formula for determining diversion and recycling rates is calculated, with strong emphasis on the collection of more transparent and reliable data
2.   Higher diversion goals that better demonstrate ‘continuous and meaningful progress’ in PCC recycling
3.   Greater emphasis on the education of both carpet installers and consumers about AB2398 and carpet recycling in general
4.   A detailed job description of the new California-based staff member, with specific focus on how their role will help to further the success of AB2398
5.    How market incentives, such as the proposed 12-cents per pound incentive for development of non-nylon market, are expected to work
6.   How unused funds will be allocated, with the recommendation that they remain no greater than 35% of annual operating cost
7.   How to prevent adverse consequences to human health or the environment in the case that a recycler is forced by the market to close their operation
8.   Details of how the rural county collection program was implemented and a plan for its expansion

CARE deeply appreciates this feedback and is actively working on adding language to the Carpet Stewardship Plan that will respond and resolve these reasonable concerns in a timely manner.  In the end, considering California has several cities, large and small, that have declared goals of zero waste by 2020, AB2398 can help play a major role in helping to accomplish this objective.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Spotlight on Pre-Consumer Recycling

When it comes to recycling the focus is often placed on the post-consumer end but companies are increasingly diverting their attention to the energy and materials that go into their products before they even reach the market.

For the carpet industry, one such example is J&J Industries AquafinityTM Water Reclamation System. Since the system went on the line in March 2012, J&J has fine-tuned the system to recover 60-75% of their dyehouse wastewater annually. In a state like Georgia where water resources are increasingly strained, closing loops on water use is both good for business and the environment.

                                                          Floor Covering News, May/June 2004

Specifically, 60-75% of water recovered through the AquafinityTM system translates to 25-27 million gallons of dyehouse wastewater recycled per year. Furthermore, the output water is warmer, cleaner and homogenous which means less energy is needed to warm the water, saving 5 billion BTU’s of energy each year as well.

While the system required an investment, according to Howard Elder, Director of Research and Environmental Affairs at J&J Industries, said in a release,  “The reuse of wastewater in carpet dyeing is an environmentally innovative process that J&J is proud to pioneer.” Not to mention, based on the system’s performance J&J expects to recover the cost in as little as three years.

Perhaps the greenest aspect of the Aquafinity Water Reclamation System however is J&J’s mindset. Rather than coveting the technology to gain a leg up in the industry, J&J has been offering tours to associates, customers, regional offices and competitors since the system was installed.

While not specifically in CARE’s mission statement, limiting resources on the front-end of carpet production is also something to be celebrated.  In the end, it's all part of designing for sustainability and fortunately the industry continues to provide us with exciting stories to share!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Engineered Resins Continue To Grow As Primary Post Consumer Carpet Outlet

Every year CARE prepares an annual survey in order to report on advances in carpet diversion and recycling. The survey is distributed to all CARE members, with members who handle the majority of post consumer carpet activity also being directly contacted. Surveys collect a wide array of valuable information including:
    • Amount of post-consumer carpet diverted and recycled

    • Recycling versus other end-uses for the material diverted
    • End products manufactured from recycled material

    • Steps in the recycling process performed by the respondent

    • Types and amounts of carpets recycled, by fiber type

    • Geographical locations and employment information
    • International versus domestic customers   
This year the response rate was very high with 39 of the 40 companies directly contacted returning surveys. After careful tabulation and crosschecking, data show that 74% of diverted material is being recycled which is similar to 2011 data (75%).  The primary form of recycling continues to be the manufacture of engineered resins, which makes up 63% of the total recycled output. Up 5% from 58% of output in 2011, it is clear that engineered resins are a growing, vital, market in the recycling of post-consumer carpet (PCC). 

Resins are naturally found in plants, particularly coniferous trees, and are valued for their chemical properties that facilitate many useful purposes including varnishing, glazing, adhesion, and the creation of essential oils. Engineered resins are manufactured to mimic natural resins chemical properties and are thus valuable to the assembly of a wide array of materials. One major user of engineered resins is the automotive industry.

In 2011 Ford began to incorporate EcoLon® into their vehicles. EcoLon is manufactured by Wellman Engineering Resins by grinding nylon-based PCC into fiber and then, through a patented process, recovering the material into a nylon resin. The Dana Holding Corporation then uses the resin to mold cylinder-head covers through its injection-molding process, thus allowing Ford to substitute traditional cylinder head covers (which use virgin materials) for a high-quality, eco-friendly, alternative. Currently found in the Ford Fusion, Escape, Mustang GT and F-150, the Ecolon-based cylinder-head covers were the first automotive product of its kind manufactured from post-consumer recycled nylon. 

In addition to diverting carpet from landfills, by using EcoLon Ford reduced their indirect consumption of oil by more than 430,000 gallons in 2010. While Ford enjoys greener engines and cost savings, customers also feel the ‘green’ benefits of a greater fuel economy due to the fact that the nylon-based covers are nearly 20% lighter than their previous aluminum die-cast predecessors. Other uses for PCC-based resins include furniture, medical devices, computers and other electronics. Stay tuned for future product highlights!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

LA Fiber: "Saving our planet, one square yard at a time"

In the world of post-consumer carpet (PCC) recycling only a handful of companies simultaneously play the roles of the collector, sorter, processor and manufacturer.

Services provided by CARE Annual Survey Respondents

                                               CARE Annual Report, 2012

Working in partnership with Reliance Carpet Cushion, Los Angeles (LA) Fiber Company happens to be one of 7% of companies that handle PCC from collection all the way to manufacture.  In doing so Stan and Ron Greitzer, owners and founders, manage to avoid one of carpet recycling’s highest hurdles — finding markets for PCC.  LA Fiber did not start out with carpet as their premier source material however.

Founded in 1983, LA Fiber’s original market was processing PET bottles into fiberfill, eventually transitioning to recycling textile waste from the garment industry. The company had plenty of feedstock until 1998 when revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pushed American textile companies to move processing offshore.

In the face of a serious setback, LA Fiber recognized a huge opportunity; once again capitalizing on the age-old adage ‘one mans trash is another man’s treasure,’ Stan and Ron converted their fiber-reclaiming machinery to handle and process PCC. With over five billion pounds of carpet being sent to landfills across the nation per year, LA Fiber acquired an essentially endless supply stream.

Beyond recognition of a great source material, the Greitzers also realized an important outlet, Reliance Carpet Cushion. Founded back in 1931 by Stan’s father, Ron’s grandfather, for eighty years Reliance was one of the largest suppliers of foam, fibers, spring coils, etc. to top brand mattress companies including Serta and Sealy.  With respect to Reliance Carpet Cushion, although it had been around since the 1960s, it wasn’t until Reliance’s partnership with LA Fiber that the product was able to transform from its original makeup of scrap foam and synthetic fibers to become the 100% recycled eco-carpet cushion it is today.

Beyond material recovery, Reliance Carpet Cushion is made with no chemical additives, meets stringent standards for indoor air quality, and is resistant to mold, mildew, and bacterial growth. For buildings striving for LEED credit, Reliance Carpet Cushion gets points for recycled content (MR 4.1/4.2) and low emissions (EQ 4.3).

Demand for the earth-friendly carpet cushion continues to grow but while Reliance Carpet Cushion is LA Fiber’s primary outlet, it is not their only one. Processed Nylon 6 and 6,6, PP and PET fibers are also sold as engineered resins, contributing to products ranging from automobiles to decorative pillows. Today LA Fiber is one of the principal West coast recyclers of carpet and other textiles, recovering over 60 million pounds of PCC a year.

Their dedication to carpet recycling is not unnoticed. Back in 2003 LA Fiber was the first company to be named by CARE as the Recycler of the Year, setting the bar high as a true trailblazer for success in carpet recycling. LA Fiber continued to acquire more honors including being awarded CARE’s Person of the Year in 2006 (Ron), for Innovations in Carpet Recycling by the US EPA in 2008 and another CARE Recycler of the Year award in 2010, among other honorable distinctions. 

As for the future, California has an ambitious goal of zero waste by 2020 and Ron sees bulky items such as carpet and furniture as key to making this intention a reality. Fortunately, since AB2398’s passage into law by former Governor Schwarzenegger in September 2010 PCC recycling carpet in California is becoming easier every day. Similar to all laws and ordinances, Ron recognizes that AB2398 is not without its growing pains but he believes the extra funding has made a big difference for carpet recycling, not to mention job growth.

Overall, AB2398 has made some major strides in a short period of time, especially considering all systems, procedures and protocols for its administration had to be created from scratch. As the Carpet Stewardship Organization in charge of administering AB2398 in its formative years, CARE is dedicated to ensuring its continued success and is excited to see how the innovative legislation continues to benefit inspiring entrepreneurs such as LA Fiber.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

CARE Welcomes Frank Endrenyi as New PET Project Leader

Frank Endrenyi has been involved with the carpet industry since 1974 and comes to CARE with a wealth of experience. Among his many career accomplishments, including the development of three patents, Frank served as the Vice President of Marketing, Vice President of Product Development and Vice President of Sustainable Development during his distinguished career at Mohawk Industries. As the VP of Sustainable Development Frank was responsible for the development of Mohawk’s signature GreenWorksTM program.

Frank first brought his expertise in reducing, reusing, recycling and renewing to CARE all the way back at the beginning in 2002. From CARE’s formative year up until 2009, Frank served on the board as an industry representative, playing an integral role in the organization’s growth and development.

In December of 2009 Frank left Mohawk Industries and his board position at CARE to form his own company, Sustainable Materials Solutions. Frank was not away from CARE for long however. In early 2010 he returned to the board as an independent entrepreneurial advisor and chairman of CARE’s PET Opportunities sub-team.

The PET opportunities sub-team was formed in response to the growing portion of PET fiber that constitutes the post-consumer carpet stream. As the team delved into market research it became evident that finding viable outlets for PET required significantly more time than they could volunteer. Accordingly, in June of this year the CARE Board issued a request for proposal for a PET project leader.

Frank began his one-year contract in mid-July and he is very excited about his new opportunity. Through the course of Frank’s impressive career he has been very successful in helping companies find and develop recycling technologies for Nylon 6 and 6,6 fibers, and, as he pointed out in a recent conversation, “the skills I developed while working with Nylon are directly applicable to what now needs to happen for PET.”

However, unlike his work with Nylon, Frank is well aware that PET does not have the benefit of a ready-made market. That is, once post consumer carpet recyclers figured out how to purify post-consumer Nylon 6 and Nylon 6,6 fibers, the fibers already had various outlets in the plastics industry including appliances, automotive parts, etc.  The absence of these existing markets for processed PET carpet fiber is what Frank called his “biggest hurdle and challenge”; basically, unlike Nylon, the cost of virgin PET is much lower; and that, coupled with lack of abundant present end use markets, makes PET carpet recycling a challenge.

This value hurdle is an increasingly important one to clear. In 2012 PET fiber made up 25% of the post-consumer carpet stream and Frank expects it to grow up to 45% in the next five years. Fortunately, Frank’s entrepreneurial personality sees only opportunity. Frank describes his strategy for the next year as a three-prong approach.

First, Frank plans to generate a list of all the possible technologies that could be used to recycle PET fiber into various purities; essentially making a database that identifies processes, costs and outputs.

Second, he aims to match outputs with potential end users. That is, not all outlets of post-consumer PET fiber will require PET of the utmost purity. For the economics to work, Frank sees the process of matching the physical properties of various purities to the price and quality needs of various products as essential.

Third, after identifying the right end use products to match varying process technologies’ outputs, he must work with companies to develop these markets. Frank will focus his energy wherever the conditions are ripe. Once local markets are established the key will be to expand developments across the nation.

CARE also recently initiated a new non-nylon incentive for users of fiber output derived from California post-consumer carpet. While program details are still being finalized, CARE believes this is yet another catalyst to aid Frank in his important work.

Overall Frank is very optimistic about the future of PET and sees his previous experience with Nylon as directly applicable to the task at hand; “My ultimate goal is to identify and develop a variety of high value PET markets that can take millions and millions of pounds per year.”

CARE is as excited as Mr. Endrenyi and looks forward to reporting advances in the coming year!

Monday, August 5, 2013

PET’s Presence in Post Consumer Carpet Stream Continues to Rise

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fibers first found their way into the carpet industry in the 1960s but it wasn’t until the 1990s that technology allowed ‘pop bottle carpets,’ or carpets made from recycled PET bottles, to take off. 

One early example is Mohawk Industries everSTRAND® carpet. Since its introduction in 1999 everSTRAND® has saved more than 24 billion bottles from entering landfills. This breaks down to roughly 30 to 45 two-liter plastic bottles kept out of landfills for every square yard of PET carpet produced.

Beyond reducing the extraction of virgin materials for its production, because PET carpet is extraordinarily resistant to stains, it does not require the stain resistant treatments many nylon carpets undergo during their manufacture and lifetime. Furthermore, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, PET fiber can be easily dyed vibrant colors that are extremely fade resistant.

Accordingly, the success of Mohawk’s everSTRAND® carpet led the way for other carpet manufacturers to develop PET lines including Shaw’s ClearTouch® and Beaulieu’s Green Smart® carpets among others. 

Over the past 20 years new technologies have been developed by carpet manufacturers that have contributed to the enhanced performance of PET carpet as compared to PET carpets from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Since PET carpets are extremely cost competitive, they are especially suited for Multi-family housing, where carpet is changed on a much higher replacement cycle than carpet from single family homes; Therefore PET carpet (on average) tends to have a shorter life cycle.

Subsequently, according to the results of CARE’s annual survey, PET carpet has rapidly grown to an estimated 24% of the total post-consumer carpet (PCC) collection stream. This is a noteworthy 5% increase in just one year and brings into question PET carpet’s primary challenge; what to do with post-consumer carpet?

Post-Consumer Carpet Fiber Type Trends, 2008-2012 

                                         CARE Annual Report, 2012

While the market to recycle PET carpet into fiber pad exists, it is quite small in comparison to the amount of post consumer PET carpet being collected. Thus, at this moment the majority of PET carpet diverted ends up either being landfilled or sent to waste to energy processes. Accordingly, finding viable markets for post-consumer PET carpet is one area where CARE is devoting increasing attention.

To begin, CARE has provided a platform for representatives of the plastics industry to openly exchange ideas with the carpet industry. Specifically, at CARE’s tenth annual conference in 2012 there were at least half a dozen representatives from the plastics industry in attendance.  CARE continues to focus on the development of technologies for non-nylon face fiber with a variety of initiatives.

More recently CARE announced an opening for a PET Project leader to exclusively focus on the development of markets for post-consumer PET carpet. From the many applications received, CARE is excited to welcome an industry expert and long-time CARE board member, Frank Endrenyi. Frank is very excited about his new opportunity. As he points out, when he first started his involvement in CARE Nylon 6,6 was a fiber without a post-consumer market and now Nylon 6,6 has a variety of valuable outlets. With strategy and time he believes PET fiber will have its share of viable afterlives as well.

Stay tuned to learn more about Mr. Endrenyi’s background and the challenges and opportunities of his new position! In the meantime, if you have ideas on how to use PET fiber, please contact Frank at (404) 431-6050.