Carpet manufacturers are working with C&D recyclers across the U.S. to close the loop on their manufacturing processes.
The new carpet scraps recycled at a job site could conceivably be manufactured from the same carpeting that was pulled out of the building months earlier.
Shaw Industries operates its Evergreen Carpet Recycling Facility in Augusta, Georgia, said to be the largest such operation in the world. Its “cradle-to-cradle” solution is a nearly endless cycle of nylon to nylon. Postconsumer carpeting is collected and converted to virgin nylon; nylon 6 is the preferred material.
“As part of our portfolio of recycling processes, reclaimed carpet has three potential pathways back into the economy,” explains Jay Henry, director of operation support, at Shaw Industries. “The carpet can become new carpet; an ingredient material for other manufacturers’ products such as automotive parts; or converted into energy, helping to power our manufacturing operations.”
Shaw reclaims carpet from commercial and residential customers through a network of independent collectors and recyclers all over the U.S. Used carpet from Shaw and other manufacturers is brought back to be reincarnated into its next life. Shaw also sources postconsumer materials through C&D recyclers, who continue to be a tremendous advocate for the recovery and value-added recycling of C&D materials.
“Recycling carpet is easy to deal with, pretty straight forward,” says Terry Gillis, general manager at Recovery 1 Inc., Tacoma, Washington.
Carpet typically comes to Recovery 1 directly from the carpet shop installers. Installers go out with new materials and return to the carpet shop with the tear-out. They place tear-out in a 20-cubic-yard to 40-cubic-yard container which, when full, is hauled to Gillis’ facility.
“When the containers arrive, we inspect for contaminants and identify the various carpets by face-fiber type and backing construction,” Gillis describes. Those parameters determine what they do with the carpet. “We ship residential and commercial ‘action-backed’ carpet with Nylon 6 face fiber to Shaw Industries. Other carpet types go to other processors,” Gillis says.
Inspection is a key step. Henry says C&D companies can take two important steps to help facilitate the recycling of carpet at their operations:
1) Keep carpet separated from other materials that could contaminate it or make it difficult to recycle. Carpet that can be segregated from other wastes or recyclables is not overly difficult to identify, sort and prepare for shipment to a recycler.
2) Continue to identify processes and cost-saving measures to keep the cost to collect and sort postconsumer carpet as economical as possible to remain competitive with virgin materials. Having low-cost feedstocks creates growth in the utilization of those materials.
Returning old carpet
Companies that accept carpet like Recovery 1 typically charge a tipping fee. Carpet and carpet padding are charged at $60 per ton, the same rate as wallboard. By contrast, the Tacoma operation gets $18 per ton for clean wood and $25 per ton for mixed landscape debris. Commingled C&D materials fetch $70 a ton. “
At $70 a ton, we are less than half the fee of most (nearby) transfer stations,” Gillis says. “There is significant savings to the carpet firm and the benefits of recycling play a part.”
Gillis adds, “It is rare to see carpet commingled.” That is because demolition contractors know it can be handled solo. They separate the tacking strips, roll the carpet or stack the carpet tiles, put it in a roll-off box and ship it. Usually, the installer takes responsibility for pulling the old carpet out and installing new.
As renovation and remodeling projects begin, all the removal team has to do is call a toll-free number on the back of the tile or carpet (800-434-9887) and Shaw will pick it up at no charge. This service is offered regardless of whether the new flooring being installed is a Shaw product.
“Collection is the key,” Henry says. Across the U.S., Shaw has 50 Evergreen collection points. That carpet collection network covers most major U.S. markets. If the collected carpet is made with Nylon 6 face fiber, it is routinely transported to Shaw’s Evergreen facility in Augusta, Georgia, where it goes through an extensive recycling process that first separates the nylon from the other raw material components and then converts it into virgin-quality caprolactam, the chemical building block used to produce new Nylon 6.
The company says it recycles 100 million pounds of postconsumer carpet waste each year.
Shaw, considered the largest recycler of carpet materials, is not the only carpet recycler. For some shipments, Recovery 1 works with Tandus Carpet, Dalton, Georgia, a division of Tarkett. Tandus is known for its carpet squares and introduced the first 100-percent recycled content vinyl backing about 15 years ago.
Shaw’s network of independent recycling partners spreads across the U.S. “Typically, those recyclers cover specific geographic areas where they provide a service to local flooring retailers, installers, contractors and C&D businesses. The mission is to keep carpeting from ending up in landfills,” Henry says.
What qualifies for recycling
One way to assure carpet is recyclable is to prevent the carpet and padding from getting wet or damaged by the elements.
“We do extract carpet out of the general demolition debris stream and when possible, it is recycled as well; however, there are many times when the carpet, which has been mixed with other demolition debris, is not suitable for recycling,” Gillis notes.
“Essentially, as long as it isn’t wet or hazardous, it can likely be recycled,” Henry says. He notes there are the obvious situations that would prevent some carpet from being recyclable such as exposure to chemicals, paints or hazardous materials and the not-so-obvious: saturation with water.
“While many carpet recycling processes can reduce the amount of moisture in carpet, some have a zero tolerance for excessive moisture,” he explains.
The next step in determining recyclability is a testing procedure that helps with sorting the material by type.
Shaw and its reclamation partners use a spectrophotometer device to read the fiber type of carpeting. There are several devices on the market that can scan the face fiber of carpet and accurately tell the user whether the fiber is Nylon 6, Nylon 6,6, polyester, polypropylene or other.
Honeywell and Shaw, through Evergreen Augusta, led the widespread growth of these handheld devices early in the history of carpet recycling. With this identification technology, specific fiber types can be directed to their highest and best use. This includes the next generation of recycling technology at Evergreen Ringgold, which will be capable of recycling both nylon and polyester.
Gillis has two analyzers and can give C&D recyclers immediate feedback on the material in question.
On average, 80 percent of the postconsumer carpet Shaw collects is made with Nylon 6, which can be closed-loop recycled at Evergreen. When reclaimed material cannot be recycled into new carpet, it may be diverted for reuse in carpet cushion, erosion and sediment control products and engineered resins that are used to produce injection molded plastic automobile parts.
Bales of Nylon 6-based carpet are run through a series of shredders. Once ground up, the material is melted in an extruder until it reaches a consistency similar to marshmallow. That melt goes through a series of reactors that turn the nylon fraction into a vapor. The vapor is purified and recycled into Nylon 6.
A touch of history
In 1999, Shaw introduced its EcoWorx carpet tile, with an environmental guarantee. The guarantee ensured that Shaw would pick up and recycle EcoWorx carpet tile at no cost to the customer.
There was a time-lapse, of course, since it was several years before the carpet tile reached end-of-life and began being returned. Shaw accelerated its carpet recycling efforts in 2006 with the demand for more postconsumer recycled material content from specifiers in commercial markets.
“It also presented a compelling opportunity for residential and builder customers,” Henry says.
Since 2006, Shaw has recycled more than 700 million pounds of reclaimed carpet. In that time, the firm has expanded its recycling portfolio to include a diversity of solutions. This helps ensure that the reclaimed material is repurposed to the highest and best use for the respective fibers and material ingredients.
“Carpet is not just Nylon carpet—there is foam, fiber, jute-backed, wool and blends, too,” Gillis remarks.
While jute-backed carpet is becoming a rare item, a recycler has to be aware of the various grades of material—commercial and residential being two main ones—and the many piles of carpet that are available.
Vinyl-backed carpets typically come in squares. They are simply loaded on a pallet. Other carpet is rolled and then palletized.
The most desirable type for recycling is the ‘action-backed’ carpet with Nylon 6 face fiber. But even the stuff under the carpet itself goes through the recycler.
Indeed, carpet pads have value. “Polyurethane foam padding is very marketable,” Gillis notes. He says that they bale the material and ship it to buyers.
Recovery 1 will take the low-value commercial carpet or the high-count plush residential pile materials.
On a typical Thursday late this summer, Gillis had a load of carpet to ship to Shaw. He made a call after lunch to get a purchase order (PO) number and by the end of the day had a response from Shaw’s logistics department arranging to be on the Recovery 1 site Monday morning between 6 a.m. and noon.
Come Monday, that carpet was sealed into a container and a scale ticket was generated (Recovery 1 has its own scale) with the PO information Shaw required. “Within two weeks, I’ll have a check,” Gillis says.
Much of the postconsumer carpet collected today has a market value that varies depending on geography, value of the recycled product and local disposal cost.
When working with Tandus, Gillis has to arrange for the freight to Georgia and Tandus pays Recovery 1 for the material plus shipping.
Shaw establishes independent supply agreements with its reclamation partners according to their specific market served and business model, which varies from area to area.
“Some reclamation businesses are waste haulers who also collect recyclables, and others only handle recyclable materials, which can be totally different business models,” Henry says.
Currently, at the end of a carpet’s useful life, Shaw processes it at its Evergreen Augusta facility or Re2E (carpet to energy) facility in Dalton. That will expand soon. The opening of Shaw’s Evergreen Ringgold site, set for 2015, is its next major milestone.
“In 2015, we’ll begin operations at Evergreen Ringgold, which will recycle Nylon and polyester carpet,” Henry says. Evergreen Ringgold will create a high-purity postconsumer recycled material that can be used in a broad range of applications.
“We’re proud to be an industry leader in the reclamation and recycling of end-of-use carpet,” Henry says. “As we continue to drive innovation into our business, we look for new solutions to pieces of the puzzle that continue to challenge us.
“We’re committed to expanding and diversifying our recycling portfolio as appropriate to meet our business, customer and sustainability objectives,” he concludes.
The author is a contributing editor to Construction & Demolition Recycling based in the Cleveland area. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.