A Growing Demand

Features - Emerging Markets

As green building and LEED certification continue to gain momentum, use of recycled content is becoming more popular.

September 29, 2011
Kelley Stoklosa

After a tornado swept through most of Greensburg, Kan., officials there decided to rebuild the city "stronger, better and greener." Recycled fiberglass insulation was installed in the new elementary school and high school, and many other buildings, including City Hall, are being rebuilt with the goal of obtaining U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

In Pennsylvania, the first LEED Platinum certified single-family home was recently completed, and many other residential certifications are slated to follow. The United States is not the only place where sustainable building practices are gaining popularity. In Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, RDC Fine Homes Inc. built the Whistler Vision Net Zero house, which is said to be the first house in Whistler to produce more energy than its uses.

With sustainable building practices gaining momentum, use of recycled content in building materials also is increasing in popularity. Manufacturers are taking note that the only way to stay competitive in today's market is to offer products made from recycled content.

Tim Baucom, vice president, commercial sales and marketing, Shaw Industries Group Inc., Dalton, Ga., says Shaw began using recycled content in its commercial carpeting in 1996 and has since then expanded its product lines to meet demand. "Recycled content was the first, and remains one of the most requested, environmental improvements sought by our customers in our products," Baucom says.

Customers are not the only ones who expect a more sustainable product. Aman W. Desouza, director of innovation and product sustainability for CertainTeed Corp., Valley Forge, Pa., says government standards are making energy efficiency as a top priority for builders. Over the last 10 years CertainTeed has ramped up its efforts to produce products that are more sustainable, according to Desouza. Of course, recycling has been around for much longer than that. "Some level of recycled content has been used for decades — whether it is recycled glass in fiberglass insulation batts or using regrind in vinyl siding manufacturing," says Desouza. "This kind of recycling is part of running smart, efficient operations."

Builders and consumers who are now making changes to be more environmentally friendly are demanding the same from the companies they purchase from.

Baucom says, "A requirement from the U.S. General Services Administration dictates use of recycled content must meet requirements of government agencies in order to compete."

As such, manufacturers say they see the practice of using recycled content to be a financially sound strategy that they expect to stick around for quite a while. There is a connection between improving the environmental performance of products and how enthusiastically they are embraced by the marketplace, say manufacturers.

Desouza says, "In monitoring the trend towards sustainability, CertainTeed has been even more motivated to establish programs and procedures to develop sustainable products and to reduce the company's environmental footprint. It also makes sense for the bottom line to recycle materials where applicable without sacrificing quality."

If the green building movement and LEED certification are a driving force, and not merely an option, companies have decided to do what is necessary to stay ahead. Companies like Shaw and CertainTeed say staying competitive is important and have developed a few strategies to try to get ahead. Shaw has found what Baucom says is a dependable supply of post-consumer carpet, which makes it possible to incorporate post-consumer recycled content—an industry preference—back into its products. Previously to find regular sources of post consumer feedstock, Shaw relied on pre-consumer carpet.

Companies also are reaching outside of their usual realm for feedstock. Old newspaper, milk jugs and water bottles are a few examples of recycled materials that are finding their way into products. The key is to reach out to these possibilities. Shaw works with a plant that uses recycled soda and water bottles to make recycled PET flake that is then extruded into polyester fiber to make Shaw's ClearTouch residential carpet.

CertainTeed's Platon waterproofing membrane contains 92 percent post-consumer recycled content from old detergent containers and milk jugs. In addition, gypsum products are now sometimes made with 100 percent post consumer paper. Shaw claims that manufacturing new Nylon Six carpet fiber using caprolactam recovered from its Evergreen carpet represents a 30 percent lifecycle energy savings when compared to using virgin materials.

No matter how committed a company is to the idea of supplying recycled content to its consumer base, cost always plays a part. Often times, processing and handling costs are higher for recycled materials than virgin materials. Baucom says the immediate goal of using recycled content is to stabilize Shaw's raw material and processing costs with potential savings in the future, if the cost of virgin raw materials continues to escalate.

"Even at the same average cost for recycled raw materials and processing costs, cost stability will offer a competitive advantage," Desouza says. There are a few cases where the cost for a fiber with recycled content is lower. This can occur when the material is able to be directly inserted without a true change in the chemical composition before it is re-extruded into a fiber for use in carpet," he adds.

Transparency has been beneficial to CertainTeed as well. Desouza suggests having an active cooperation with organizations such as USGBC, the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), among others. Shaw and CertainTeed have found this approach helpful in several respects. The NAHB offers a National Green Building Standard to those who meet its standardized requirements, and the EPA implements good practice guidelines. Also, by allowing third parties to review products, customers may have a more positive view of a company and are thus more inclined to do business with it.

For example, CertainTeed had its vinyl and polymer siding products audited by Sustainable Solutions Corp. of Royersford, Pa. Desouza says Sustainable Solutions found the company's siding outperformed other exterior siding products—such as brick and stucco. Public persona is an important aspect to a company's strategy. Third party endorsements are "industry game changers. We hope this will continue to provide buyers with the peace of mind that products they use are truly sustainable," Desouza says. Evidence, whether in Pennsylvania British Columbia, Kansas or elsewhere, suggests this market segment will only continue to grow.

Some sources cite interest in recycled content as rapidly moving from a specific segment to the mainstream because it is essential to product lifecycle thinking. Attitudes toward green building and LEED certification are becoming more positive, which bodes well for the future of recycled-content-containing products. The number of material recycling programs will continue to grow, creating a win-win situation for the architect, contractor, manufacturer, building owner and the community at large, according to Desouza.

It is becoming obvious that this market segment is here to stay, says Desouza, which can be illustrated in CertainTeed's Roofing Responsibly program. Old roofing shingles are collected by contractors and transported to a nearby asphalt shingle recycling center, where they are recycled and reused to create new paving surfaces. Stakeholders who choose to recycle roofing materials at the end of their useful life, instead of sending them to a landfill are setting a precedent for future projects.

As the sustainable building market continues to grow, "manufacturers will continue to explore ways to add additional recycled content into their products," Baucom predicts.


The author is assistant editor of Construction and Demolition Recycling and can be reached at kstoklosa@gie.net.