CARE update, NPR report on Google search results: Strategic Exchange - Jun 2016

By Kemp Harr

Ilistened to a recent NPR story about the early days of the Internet, which at the time was challenged to find a meaningful way to sort through and catalog all the data so that it could be accessed in a meaningful way. 

According to the report, Google was one of the first companies to decide that traffic should be a determining factor in ranking what shows up when words or phrases are searched. So, what we’ve ended up with is a people’s choice ranking system. Google’s system has been so successful that now it is undeniably the leader in the field. NPR, which many of you know is not a big fan of big business, is now concerned that Google has grown so large that any competitor that challenges this monopolistic giant with perhaps a better mousetrap will be gobbled up and squelched. According to NPR, Google should be monitored and regulated in much the same way that AT&T was treated when it controlled the telephone lines. 

The issue that some people might have with a sorting system that ranks responses based on the level of satisfaction of the last person to do the search is two-fold. First, what if that person wasn’t smart enough to seek a more refined answer? In that case, it would qualify as a dumbing down of the system. But the second concern, and the one I want to pivot on, is whether this system can be easily fooled through trickery and deceit.

When a consumer is searching for “carpet in Omaha” and types that search phrase into the Internet, do they know all the factors that go into the ranking of what appears on the page? Back in the days of the Yellow Pages, anyone who paid a minimum fee would be listed alphabetically, and those who wanted to pay more would be bolded and surrounded by a display ad. Today, based on key word programming, clicks that might be emanating from a service in India or legitimate pay-per-click advertising, an E-commerce firm based in Virginia might end up high on the list without even having a physical presence in Omaha. 

I’m not sure what the right answer is, but the consumer ought to be able to see what factors contributed to the way the listing was generated. I believe this is why online peer reviews have become so popular.

KEEPING POST-CONSUMER CARPET OUT OF THE LANDFILLS
CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) has certainly evolved since it was first formed initially as an extension of the CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) back in 2002. It has always had a separate board and a diverse membership comprised of carpet producers, component suppliers, government agencies and entrepreneurial collectors, sorters and recyclers, but probably the biggest change is the size of the budget. Back in the beginning, CARE’s annual budget was around $300,000, but now it’s well over $20 million. Obviously, the biggest contributor to this increase is Cal Recycle and funds generated by AB 2398—now that they’ve raised their fee per yard from a nickel to 20 cents. This single revenue source alone will generate in excess of $18 million a year. These funds, coupled with the $4.5 million from the VPS (voluntary product stewardship) contribution from CRI members as well as ongoing sponsorships, add up to some real money.

These additional funds couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, since the drop in crude oil prices has had a major negative effect on the value of the plastics that can be recovered from post-consumer carpet. Now that virgin plastics are cheaper, many of the more traditional waste streams have dried up, and without subsidies from CARE funds, the collectors and sorters would have trouble covering their labor and transportation costs.

A second and more long-term benefit of these funds comes in the form of grants issued to stimulate the development of other viable markets for carpet waste. One example is the construction board that has been developed with CARE grant money at the University of Connecticut. This promising new structural construction material, which would serve as an alternative for plywood, can even process carpet waste that contains some polypropylene backing and a small percentage of calcium carbonate.

An air entangled nonwoven filtration fabric, under development by Verdex Technologies, is also able to use scrap fiber with moderate contamination from backing and binder. The construction board and the filtration fabric are noteworthy not only for their ability to use less than pure input materials, but also because they are both products that are in high demand, so the potential to consume large quantities is high. This is important, because even though CARE has been successful at building a foundation for collecting, sorting, shipping and recycling post-consumer carpet, there are still five billion pounds of carpet that end up in the nation’s landfills every year.

A DIFFERENT WAY TO MAKE CARPET
For years, recyclers have urged the carpet industry to modify the process used to manufacture broadloom carpet so that it is easier to recycle at the end of its useful life. The biggest issue today is separating dissimilar ingredients, such as backings, which are make from polypropylene; the face fiber, which can be nylon, polyester, polypropylene or wool; and the latex binder, which generally has a calcium carbonate filler. We heard at the CARE convention that several major carpet mills are running trials on products that not only solve the recycling issue but are also easier to install. Stay tuned for more announcements on this.

If you have any comments about this month’s column, you can email me at kemp@floorfocus.com.

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