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.