Thursday, November 21, 2013

Freeman Co. seeks to reduce carpet waste at tradeshows

We usually think of carpet as something that lasts years or even decades. However, carpet’s ability to provide comfort, reduce noise, and offer an attractive design makes it a key component of the estimated 100,000 tradeshows and conferences worldwide every year. The floors and aisles around the exhibition booths are covered in carpet that has been selected, cut, and freshly installed specifically for an event that may only run for a few days.

CES 2011 Show Floor (ETC@USC/

Consider the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which featured 3,239 exhibitors over 1.8 million square feet for four days in 2012. As you can see in the picture above, nearly every inch of the show floor is covered in carpet. The large size of these exhibitions and their short lifespan is one of the many reasons why the tradeshow industry is one of the largest users of carpet. Freeman is the largest service provider in this industry and provides logistics for over 11,000 events per year, including 135 of the 250 largest tradeshows in the US.

Freeman has an inventory of 3.2 million square yards of carpet that they rent to clients for events. While Freeman strives to offer their customers a wide variety of carpet including classic, custom and prestige colorfast carpet with borders, patterns and logo applications, they also hold themselves accountable to provide a greener service as well. For example, Freeman uses 98 percent recycled foam carpet padding, and also offers plastic carpet covering (Visqueen) containing between 50 and 75 percent recycled content. 

Beyond the carpets’ actual characteristics, perhaps Freeman’s most laudable practice is their carpet recycling. Following every tradeshow, rather than tearing up and disposing the well-trodden carpet, Freeman transports it back to their warehouses. They match like pieces of carpet together and seam them together into a roll that can be washed and reused. Aisle carpets are typically used 4 to 5 times and booth carpet used 6 times before reseaming isn’t possible or it doesn’t otherwise meet Freeman’s standards.

Recovered and cleaned carpet, ready for another show

A video of the carpet recovery and cleaning process can be seen here.

Freeman uses polypropylene-based carpets because they have the best color accuracy and are easiest to match during reseaming. Unfortunately, this limits the opportunities for carpet recycling once the carpet is considered unusable. In spite of this, Freeman has recycled over 60 million square feet of used aisle carpet since 2006. Some of the carpet is recycled into drainage pipe for septic systems and is reused in the manufacture of pet-related products, while higher-end carpet is sold for reuse in affordable rental housing applications. 

Freeman applies a lifecycle analysis for all the products they use at their tradeshows and is look at improving sustainability beyond carpet. For example, their rental booths are not only reusable, but consist of panels and aluminum that can be easily recycled. Freeman is also now trialing a program to reduce the use of Foamcore and other Styrofoam-backed sign materials.

Freeman’s sustainability efforts were also recently honored by the 2013 Trade Show Executive Readers’ Choice Innovation Awards, which selected Freeman as the winner in the “Most Innovative Green Initiative by a Service Provider” category. The award recognized Freeman for its company-wide sustainability efforts including a recent effort to recycle plastics from various waste streams – including cigarette butts – into new plastic exhibit shelves.

Given the size of the billion-dollar trade show industry, Freeman recognizes the value of small decisions throughout their business. “Small incremental change multiplied over our size and scope can make a huge impact”, says Carrie Freeman Parsons, Vice Chair of Freeman.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brennen Jensen joins CARE as Project Manager for the California Carpet Stewardship Program

Brennen Jensen is the founder and director/principal of Emerging Ecologies. She has led programs to create sustainable, engaged, and resilient communities inspired by nature. In recent years, her efforts helped to secure over $38 million in funding for environmental programs and diverted over 4 million pounds of waste from local California landfills. We’re pleased to announce that Ms. Jensen is joining CARE to assist in managing the California Carpet Stewardship Program established under AB2398.

Brennen has a BS in Environmental Science Technology with concentrations in Landscape Ecosystems and Wilderness Conservation from Humboldt State University, as well as a BA in Spanish. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Biomimicry in collaboration with Arizona State University. Brennen is the recipient of numerous awards, including the California Department of Conservation Comprehensive Recycling Community Award and Ecology Action Five-Year Service Award.

Brennen has over a decade of experience conceiving and implementing strategic environmental and community-based programs and initiatives that address the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time. Ms. Jensen served at the helm of the statewide implementation team for Energy Upgrade California helping to unite 58 counties, over 500 cities, and the 4 major California utilities in common purpose. With a background in government, private and non-profit organizations, Brennen has a cooperative facilitative approach that seeks to find creative solutions to complex problems, while expanding localized opportunities for waste and emissions reduction throughout California and beyond.

In her new role, Brennen will be responsible for assisting existing and potential carpet recyclers and processors with general manufacturing, communication, and business issues; managing the expansion of the Rural County Program that provides access to carpet recycling for consumers in rural areas; participating in regular visits and reviews of recycling facilities; and developing education, communications and outreach programs for targeted audiences.

"We are thrilled to have Brennen join the CARE team", says Bob Peoples, Executive Director of CARE. "Brennen brings a solid reputation and significant experience and understanding of the California marketplace to CARE. We look forward to successful growth of the Program under her leadership."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Green chemistry for more sustainable carpet

Although we don’t usually think about the chemistry behind carpet fiber, it’s a major component of carpet sustainability because almost all face fiber is produced from synthetic polymers. Synthetic polymers were discovered nearly 100 years ago but today, green chemistry is rapidly changing the way they are manufactured as well as the polymers themselves.

Joshua Drew Vaughn/Flickr

Green chemistry is a design philosophy that seeks to reduce the impact of chemical substances on humans, animals, plants, and the environment. There are two primary ways to achieve that goal. First, maximize efficiency and reduce or eliminate unnecessary chemicals and processing steps. Second, reduce or eliminate hazardous and toxic chemicals to reduce the risk if exposure occurs. Whether applied to the initial laboratory synthesis or volume manufacturing, green chemistry offers a way to reduce the impact, risk, and expense of chemical production. The core concepts of green chemistry are best demonstrated through the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry:
  1. It is better to prevent waste than to treat it afterward
  2. Design syntheses to maximize incorporation of all materials used into the final product
  3. Use methods that use and generate less hazardous chemicals
  4. Design products that maximize performance while minimizing toxicity
  5. Use safer solvents (or eliminate them completely)
  6. Increase energy efficiency
  7. Use renewable feedstocks
  8. Minimize derivatives
  9. Use catalysts to minimize waste and energy
  10. Design for degradation into the environment
  11. Use real-time analysis to minimize byproducts
  12. Minimize the potential for accidents
What does all that mean for carpet? Let’s take a look at Nylon 6,6.

The traditional synthesis of nylon 6,6 is a two-step process that first combines cyclohexene and nitric acid to produced adipic acid, which is then combined with hexamethylene diamine under high pressure to produce nylon. Cyclohexene is a reasonably safe chemical, but it is produced from benzene, which is obtained from crude oil and is a known carcinogen. Nitric acid also poses environmental risks and the results in the emission of nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas.

How can green chemistry improve this synthesis? Well, instead of using nitric acid, we can use sodium tungstate, Na2WO4, as a catalyst for the first step (Principle #9). The reaction can instead be done under mild conditions in water (Principle #5) and the only byproduct is water (Principle #3). Although using sodium tungstate introduces a heavy metal to the process, because it acts as a catalyst, it is not used up during the reaction and can produce large amounts of adipic acid before needing replacement.

While this is a step in the right direction, there are potentially greener ways to produce adipic acid. Last year, cancer researchers at Duke University derived a new enzyme (the biological equivalent of a catalyst) that catalyzes the conversion of 2-oxoadipate to (R)-2-hydroxyadipate (Principle #9). This is a key step in engineering a biological system to convert sugars to adipic acid. Instead of relying on petroleum, we might one day be able to produce nylon from renewably sourced sugar (Principle #7).

Producing carpet completely from natural feedstocks instead of petroleum would greatly reduce the impact of carpet production. In fact, synthetic polymers for carpet fiber that contain renewable feedstocks are already available. Dupont uses 37% renewable resources in their Sorona polymer, which produces fibers that are both soft and stain resistant. The production of Sorona uses 30% less energy and 63% less greenhouse gases than an equal amount of nylon. Sorona is used in Mohawk’s SmartStrand carpet.

We look forward to seeing how more of the 12 principles become incorporated into carpet production. And until we can shift to rapidly renewable feedstocks, the recycle of post-consumer face fiber remains an important component of continuing to reduce the environmental footprint of this important product.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Drawing inspiration from the successes of used tire recycling

In 2009, 84.9% of nearly 300 million used tires were diverted from landfills nationwide. In 1990, that number was approximately 15%. What factors helped make the tire recycling industry so successful?

California Tire Market Report, 2010

Akin to carpet, used tires are bulky and do not degrade in landfills. Tires also have a huge amount of embedded energy: a single tire requires 5 gallons of oil for raw materials and another 2 gallons of oil to supply the energy for manufacturing (five pounds of oil go into a single pound of nylon). Unlike carpet, whole tires consist of 70% empty space and can fill up with methane when landfilled, causing them to become buoyant, float to the top, and damage the landfill’s liner.

Minnesota was the first state to ban whole tires from landfills in 1985 and since then haveve been banned from an additional 38 states. While tire stockpiles existed prior to the landfill bans, they began to grow quickly after the bans were enacted. Improperly stored tires can serve as mosquito and rodent breeding grounds. While tires cannot be ignited easily, once lit, they are very difficult to extinguish and release thick, black toxic smoke.

A series of tire fires during the 1980s and 90s put pressure on policy makers for a solution. In 1983, a fire in Winchester, Virginia burned several million tires and was declared a Superfund site. A grass fire ignited an unlicensed tire stockpile in Tracy, California in August 1998 and burned for 26 months before finally being extinguished. During that period, a second tire fire broke out in Wesley, California from a lightning strike.

California lawmakers were galvanized by the fires and authorized CalRecycle to manage the tire waste stream. The fee on tire sales was increased in order to fund an array of grants, loans, and incentives for producers and potential users of tire-derived products. The program provided basic support and technical advice for launching products and navigating the approval process for public works projects. Since nobody wants to be the first to use a new product, case studies were commissioned to demonstrate the benefits of the new products. California, other states, and the federal governments used procurement policies to drive the market for tire-derived products.

There are now numerous applications for reused or downcycled tires.  One-third of all diverted tires are used for rubberized asphalt or ground cover for playgrounds and running tracks. Whole or shredded tires can be reused as barriers around racetracks, bumpers on docks, or civil engineering projects to form embankments or improve soil drainage. Given the inherent energy in tires, nearly one-half of diverted tires are used for waste-to-energy fuel production.

Surface America PlayBound

As you can see, there were many factors that helped make tire recycling successful. Tires were stockpiled long before any regulation because they were recognized as valuable but no viable products could be brought to market. An unfortunate series of disasters led California lawmakers to establish a fund to provide market assistance to companies to bring new products to market. Over time, the market approach has been successful and the industry has matured to include several viable companies. California exceeded a 90% diversion rate for tires for the first time in 2012.

CARE is working closely with the carpet industry, recycling entrepreneurs and local municipalities to tackle the challenges of carpet recycling. Carpet is not a hazardous waste like tires, but it does contain valuable raw materials and energy which can be recovered and recycled.   The aspirational goal of CARE is that no carpet goes to landfill in the future. We are looking for great ideas to help accomplish this goal.  Contact CARE’s Executive Director, Bob Peoples at to learn more.