Monday, October 21, 2013

CARE seeks California researchers to demonstrate new uses for recycled PET

Carpets made from polyester (a.k.a. polyethylene terephthalate or PET) are becoming increasingly popular. While PET made up just 4% of the post-consumer carpet (PCC) stream in 2007, at least 29% of California’s landfill-diverted carpet now consists of PET. While some of the PCC PET can be reprocessed into value-added materials such as carpet underpads, much of it is sent back to the landfill due to a lack of viable outputs. To help find new markets for this material, CARE is seeking to fund research proposals from researchers at California universities.

Carpet Face Fiber Material
N6, N66, PP, and PET refer to nylon-6, nylon-66, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate. Data is based on reports by California recyclers. Parentheses indicate the change in percentage from previous quarter. Source: CARE California AB2398 2013Q2 Results

PET is one of the most ubiquitous plastics and makes up one-sixth of global plastics production. You may be more familiar with PET in the form of a soda bottle or a polyester sweater, but PET also makes up a large amount of carpet fiber. While much of that virgin PET goes into textiles, polyester carpet is a common and growing output for recycled soda bottles.

Each time PET is recycled, it is contaminated with dyes and additives and the melting process leads to degradation, decreased strength, and optical cloudiness. The sheer amount of recycled PET available keeps prices low and the low price of virgin PET prevents chemical reprocessing into a virgin-like material. Unlike nylon, the brittleness of PET limits its reuse in embedded fibers or engineered resins. While nylon is a money maker for carpet recyclers, PET carpet cuts into their bottom line.

What would it take for the carpet industry to consider blending PCC PET back into flake for extrusion into PET carpet fiber? What are some new uses and applications for PCC PET? CARE will provide research grants to researchers at a California university who are interested in exploring these questions. The research proposal should be a multidisciplinary effort including materials science, product development, and market analysis and modeling. The deadline for submissions is December 20, 2013. Learn more about the grant and application process.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Interface uses recovered fishing nets for new carpet

Discarded fishing gear is a huge problem. A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 640,000 tons of fishing gear is discarded annually that washes up on beaches, sinks to the ocean floor, collects in floating garbage patches, and tangles fish, birds, and other wildlife. Typically made from nylon to improve its stability in salt water, it takes centuries for the fishing gear to biodegrade.

Carpet manufacturer Interface and the Zoological Society of London have teamed up to form NetWorks, a joint-initiative to collect abandoned nylon fishing gear and turn it into new carpets by reprocessing the nylon.

A pilot project at the Danajon Bank in the Philippines involved 892 local fishers and their families collecting discarded nets in exchange for rice. Local families live in extreme poverty and the program provides a practical alternative to fishing as catches decline from overfishing. The program has recovered nine tons of discarded fishing gear during the one-year pilot. NetWorks hopes to expand the program to neighboring areas in the Philippines and beyond.

After collection, the recovered fishing gear is sent to Aquafil, which reprocesses the nylon into fresh yarns using their Econyl process. The yarns, made of 100 percent recycled material, is then sold back to Interface for manufacturing carpet tiles. Interface is launching a new product line called Net Effect, which will be made from the recovered fishing gear and consists of up to 81 percent total recycled content.

By creating a new market for discarded fishing nets, the NetWorks project will help reduce pollution and alleviate hunger in more places as it expands. We hope that it encourages fisherman to recognize the value of their nets and to prevent pollution at the source.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Handling with Care

CARE’s executive director Bob Peoples was recently published in the Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine. You can read his story, “Handling with Care” on the C&D webpage. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nycon-G uses recycled carpet for better, crack-free concrete

Everyone is familiar with the sight of steel “rebar” embedded in reinforced concrete, but you’d probably think twice about adding used carpet to concrete.

The use of fibers to improve building materials is a centuries-old technique. Animal hair was commonly used in plaster and mud bricks during the Middle Ages. Asbestos fiber was added to concrete during the early twentieth century. Fiber-reinforced concrete has better impact resistance and toughness than normal concrete, making it less likely to break into pieces.

Nycon pioneered the use of synthetic fibers, especially nylon, for reinforcing concrete during the 1980s. Both polypropylene and nylon fiber are especially good for preventing cracking in concrete. The fibers can stretch or shrink as the concrete around it contracts or expands, such as during temperature changes. Additionally, the fibers prevent any microscopic cracks that do form from growing into larger cracks.

Nycon found that the advantage of using nylon is that it’s stable in most conditions and stronger than polypropylene fibers. Nylon can be treated so the fibers’ surface bonds with concrete, allowing them to be mixed together with ease. Unlike polypropylene, nylon doesn’t float to the surface and is unnoticeable in the finished product.

The main disadvantage of using nylon is that it’s expensive– it costs almost twice as much per pound as polypropylene. Fortunately, there’s another source for nylon fiber: recycled carpet! The short fibers found in carpet are ideal for processing into fiber for improving concrete once removed from the backing and unbundled from the yarns. The multi-step process was developed and patented by Paul Bracegirdle and licensed to Nycon.

Nycon sells the processed, reclaimed carpet fibers as part of their Nycon-G product line, which typically sells for 20% less than its virgin-material counterpart. Testing has shown that there’s no difference in crack-prevention performance between Nycon-G and using virgin nylon (see a video of Nycon-G in action).

“Nycon-G has been fairly well accepted by the customers and used primarily due to lower cost than virgin,” says Paul Bracegirdle.

In addition to being less expensive, sourcing nylon from the carpet waste stream saves water, energy, and emissions while keeping valuable materials out of landfills!

The Heldrich Hotel and Conference Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey
relied on approximately 500 precast concrete panels that were
improved with Nycon-G.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Corporate Floors Inc. Sees Bigger Picture

In 1994 Thomas Holland founded Corporate Floors Inc. with nothing more than one truck and one employee. Fast forward nearly twenty years and he now has a national services company with four locations throughout Texas (Grapevine, Austin, San Antonio and Houston) and over 88 ‘solutionists.’

Holland’s moniker for his employees is fitting given back in 2007 Holland himself solved a very large problem. It all started when Holland, over a decade into the carpet world, could no longer watch such a valuable resource go to landfills. Unfortunately, when he began to look for alternative outlets to the dump he found none. Rather than throw up his hands in defeat and pat himself on the back for trying, Holland made it his personal mission to find a solution.

Less than a year later Texas Carpet and Construction Recycling (TCR) was born. Local economic conditions, including supply, demand, and landfill tipping fees, typically dictate whether a collector and/or processor can charge to accept the material, take it for free, or pay its supplier. Fortunately for Holland, Corporate Floors Inc. wasn’t the only one who wanted to be more sustainable. Within a matter of months Texas Carpet Recycling had partnered with the real estate giant CB Richard Ellis, carpet giant Shaw Contact Group, among others. In fact, demand for ‘green’ was so big that Holland’s original 3,000 square-foot facility could not keep up. Today the company has a 32,000 square-foot space where it regularly sorts, bales and grinds carpet from dozens of companies.  TCR also diverts VCT, ceiling tiles and other post construction materials from landfill.

Texas Carpet Recycling is only one aspect of Holland’s green conscience.

In fact, perhaps more green than recycling is Corporate Floors Inc.’s cleaning and maintenance services. Holland was quick to recognize that carpet is one of the most costly features of any businesses’ built environment. Beyond the fact that it takes a beating every time someone walks through a facility, it affects how people feel and act.  There is no greater impact to a corporate budget or sustainability program than simply prolonging the life of their assets, including flooring, with proper maintenance.

Accordingly, Corporate Floors Inc. cleans over 40,000,000 square feet of carpet annually using the MilliCare dry carpet cleaning system, saving over 1.7 million gallons of water over traditional carpet cleaning. Using fewer chemicals, water, and effort, Corporate Floors Inc. has systems that protect carpet and upholstered furniture (MilliCare), floors (Waxnomore, Slipnomor, Marknomor), and tile & grout (saniGLAZE). For example, Corporate Floors Inc. uses Vital Oxide, a food grade, broad-spectrum antimicrobial, odorless, colorless, cleaning agent that has been certified by USEPA to kill mold, bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc. without creating other harmful byproducts that traditional bleaching produces. An added bonus for the environment of course is that by extending floors’ lifetimes, Corporate Floors Inc. is also doing their part to reduce waste.  It should perhaps be mentioned that Corporate Floors Inc. walks their talk by managing their own internal recycling program for all paper, plastic and packaging.  In addition to recycling the carpet on all jobs, Corporate Floors also recycles the packaging it comes in.

To seal the green deal, Holland established a partnership with American Forests and for every ton of carpet diverted from landfills Corporate Floors Inc. plants a tree. To date that means 3,500 trees planted, and not in a monoculture orchard or random pattern; American Forests plantings are guided by science with consideration to what is the best mix of species to achieve optimal habitat, water filtration, and air purification.

CARE is fortunate to have Holland’s experience and insight on the board and looks forward to learning about the future innovative projects Corporate Floors Inc. is likely to roll out.