Carpet Recycling Update: The pros and cons of subsidies and fees - Aug/Sep 16

By Darius Helm

The last few years have seen the carpet reclamation and recycling community face hurdle upon hurdle, and the carpet industry and other stakeholders around the country have responded with a range of programs, initiatives and partnerships, including fees and subsidies to sustain the community and develop markets for recycled carpet content. 

But as market conditions have deteriorated and subsidies, have been enhanced to keep pace, carpet collectors, sorters, processors and recyclers have scrambled to buy and sell product—engendering an even more chaotic market.

The carpet recycling network has always been challenging, from collection systems and processing technologies to the development of end-use markets for post-consumer carpet material. But the last three or four years have tested the network more than ever before, sending a slew of entrepreneurs right out of the business and rocking the others back on their heels.

ADVERSE IMPACTS
It started with the rise of PET carpet in the reclamation stream. The collected PET had limited end-use markets, and suddenly collectors all around the country found that a sizeable portion (and soon, over half) of the material reclaimed had, at that time, extremely limited market value—and most had to pay to get rid of it. However, there were still fairly healthy and viable streams for post-consumer nylon 6 and nylon 6,6. The single biggest market for nylon 6 was Shaw’s Evergreen nylon recycling facility in Augusta, Georgia, which had a capacity of 100 million pounds, while nylon 6,6 had established engineered resin markets—its relatively high melting point makes it a suitable material for use in vehicle parts. 

Then came the fall of oil prices, which combined with rising domestic natural gas capacity from fracking to drive down virgin PET prices—making an unfavorable recycled material even less attractive. And a West Coast port slowdown in late 2014 into the first quarter of 2015 from striking longshoremen added a layer of logistical chaos. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, in 2015 the tides then turned against nylon 6. For many years, the U.S. was a major exporter of caprolactam, the precursor for nylon 6, with China as its biggest market. Then China built three massive caprolactam facilities, increasing global capacity to such a degree that, according to some industry experts, it could take 30 years for demand to catch up. 

As a result of this and other factors, caprolactam exports from the U.S. to China ground to a virtual halt. Prices for virgin nylon 6 fell sharply, erasing the delta between virgin and recycled prices. In the same timeframe, Shaw stopped taking in reclaimed nylon 6 at Evergreen Augusta. It shut down the facility and built Augusta Ringgold, which doesn’t depolymerize nylon but instead uses a different set of technologies to process all types of fiber. So Shaw was officially out of the business of making product from recycled nylon 6. And earlier this year, Honeywell, a leading domestic caprolactam producer, sold off its caprolactam operation to AdvanSix, a new publicly traded company. So did DSM, the Dutch material sciences firm, spinning off its caprolactam capacity to Fibrant, which used to be part of DSM. And in June of this year, Fibrant announced that it is decommissioning its U.S. caprolactam operation in Augusta, Georgia. The silver lining is that this reduced U.S. caprolactam capacity may help repair nylon 6 pricing, counteracting the recent trend.

Today, crude oil is still more than $20 per barrel below the $70 mark, where carpet reclamation is considered viable without subsidies. And there are no clear signs that prices will rise anytime soon.

RECYCLING VINYL FLOORING
While PVC, like nylon and PET, is a thermoplastic that can be remelted, it faces different barriers in terms of reclamation and recycling. And even though LVT is the fastest growing product category with a strong position in the commercial market, it’s unlikely that we will see the development of a reclamation and recycling network on the scale of what exists for carpet any time soon. 

This is largely due to the inclusion of plasticizers in the chemistry of vinyl flooring. Until very recently, most vinyl flooring derived its resilience through the use of orthophthalate plasticizers, and laboratory tests have shown that some phthalates (though generally not what’s used in flooring) can act as endocrine disruptors on the body, leading to various issues, including developmental problems.

Today’s vinyl flooring generally uses bio-based plasticizers or terephthalates, which are biologically inert. And while vinyl producers are constantly looking for ways to make their products more green, many are leaning away from recycling because they don’t want their material stream to be contaminated with orthophthalates.

Instead, most vinyl manufacturers are focusing on producing recyclable flooring, and on lowering their environmental footprints through other means, including capturing post-industrial waste streams that have no phthalates, along with company wide initiatives to lower waste, water, greenhouse gas and energy use, as well as to augment renewable energy programs.

A few years from now, vinyl flooring without phthalates will start to enter the waste stream, and the first material streams will likely come from the multi-family sector, where flooring turnover is high. Before then, manufacturers will have to devise systems to differentiate flooring with or without orthophthalates. Once that is resolved, we should see the development of a substantial resilient flooring recycling network.


RECYCLING NETWORK OVERVIEW
When it comes to carpet reclamation, most of the recycling community (collectors, sorters and processors) recapture residential broadloom, which is dominated by PET fiber, followed by nylon 6. Nylon 6,6 fiber’s share of the reclaimed carpet stream has fallen from close to 40% in recent years to 15% to 20%, in large part because of the vertical integration of the major mills over the last decade—mill production is all nylon 6. In fact, the only top-five residential carpet producer focused on nylon 6,6 is the Dixie Group. 

Compared to residential carpet, very little commercial carpet is recaptured. PVC-backed carpet tile is the one exception, with strong and steady demand led by firms like Interface and Tandus Centiva (Tarkett) that recycle the material into new product. Commercial broadloom, which is glued down, is extremely difficult to recover and process efficiently, though a new California recycler called EarthCare Carpet Recycling is confident that its new technology will transform commercial broadloom recycling.

Much of the reclaimed residential carpet flows through large retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s and Empire Today, because they have high volumes as well as storage space for containers. Smaller volumes come through other channels, like independent retailers, and through containers placed at landfills. Collectors and sorters separate reclaimed carpet by fiber type, then send it on to processors that use a range of technologies to separate the carcass (the primary and secondary backings held together with latex and calcium carbonate) and purify face fibers to varying degrees before selling them to manufacturers of end-use products. Some material is funneled back into carpet, though most of the volume is utilized outside of the carpet industry.

The biggest issue plaguing the network right now is that its two biggest feedstocks, nylon 6 and PET, are hard to resell. The only healthy end-use markets for recycled fiber rely on the smaller (and shrinking) volume of nylon 6,6 feedstock.

STABILIZING MECHANISMS
There are currently two different mechanisms that serve to inject more money into the reclamation and recycling community. One is extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation introduced in California in 2011 that assesses a per-yard fee on all carpet sold in California, and works with CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) to disburse funds to collectors, sorters, processors and recyclers of reclaimed carpet. The other is a voluntary product stewardship (VPS) agreement formulated a couple of years ago that uses mill donations to fund subsidies for the collector/sorter/recycler community.

Though both programs have played a role in stabilizing the carpet reclamation network, the two could not be more different. The VPS program, a CRI (Carpet and Rug Institute) initiative administered by CARE, was instituted in January 2015 as a one-year program—subsequently renewed for a second year. It was designed to serve as a stop-gap to allow the network to weather the storm brought on by massive increases of PET in the waste stream until strategies could be developed to create end-use PET markets. The program received approximately $4.5 million in funding for each year from the carpet mills, and it offers a two-cent per pound subsidy on any type of fiber sold and shipped for recycling, along with a one-cent per pound subsidy for energy conversion through kilns or waste-to-energy. The VPS program applies to all states except California.

Subsidy payments are distributed quarterly. By late 2015, requests had exceeded funding, but the replenishment at the beginning of this year allowed CARE to catch up. And even though the recycling community has lost another half dozen members in the last year, the program is widely credited with allowing many of the other 50 or so businesses to remain viable. Nevertheless, more will likely go under before this year is out.

When it comes to the VPS program, the question now is: what happens next? Mills will meet later this year to discuss the issue. The original hope was that two years was long enough for solutions to be developed and implemented to accommodate the massive PET waste stream, but in that time other factors have intervened, putting both PET and nylon under pressure. And though there has been significant progress in the development of end-use markets for recycled PET carpet fiber, it’s only now beginning to impact the market.

The California EPR was born out of AB 2398, a carpet product stewardship bill signed into California law in 2010 that went into effect in July 2011. The law requires carpet mills, singly or collectively, to come up with a plan for the reclamation and recycling of post-consumer carpet, with a range of provisions. CARE was designated the official carpet stewardship organization. The initial assessment on carpet sold in California was five cents per square yard. All of this took place before the PET issue had become apparent. 

The basic structure of the EPR involves bringing money in via the assessments and disbursing it through subsidies and grants, along with infrastructure investment and administrative costs. The law requires assessments to be increased to meet the anticipated costs of carrying out the plan, and in April 2015, they went up to ten cents per yard. And in April of this year, assessments were further increased to 20 cents per yard. It remains to be seen if CalRecycle will determine that the assessments are still insufficient.

Assuming annual carpet sales in California remain about the same as last year, the new assessments will generate $19.4 million this year.

Then there are the California subsidies, which started out at six cents per pound of processed fiber with less than 25% ash. There’s also a three cents per pound subsidy for product with more than 25% ash, though no one is really selling any of that low value material. And there’s another three cents per pound for material that goes to kilns or CAAF (carpet as an alternative fuel). There are no subsidies for waste-to-energy uses.

Subsidies have been adjusted over the last few years, but today they stand at: $0.10/lb for Type 1 fiber (all fiber types), with less than 25% ash, with an additional $0.10/lb bonus when the group as a whole exceeds 11 million pounds in a quarter—but with the problems facing recycled nylon, no one is currently going over that limit; $0.25/lb for non-nylon recycled fiber made into a final product, with a $0.10/lb bonus after a two million pound threshold—and CARE has been making payouts for this bonus; $0.02/lb to collectors and sorters for product sorted, sold and shipped; $0.17/lb of calcium carbonate (filler) sold for a useful application; $0.10/lb for recycling carpet tile; and $0.10/lb for tile and broadloom reuse. 
BLACK LABELING COMES TO CARPET
For years, collectors have been clamoring for back-labeling of carpet to help them distinguish between different fiber types. While there are handheld scanning guns for these sorts of applications, they cost around $15,000, they don’t perform well in high-moisture environments, and one of the leading guns on the market can’t distinguish between PET and PTT (triexta).

Earlier this year, the collectors’ tenacity finally paid off. CRI and its members have decided to implement back labeling, and the program should be up and running by the end of the year.

However, collectors won’t feel the impact for a few years, because all that back-labeled carpet needs to be installed and to suffer five or so years of abuse before it’s ready for end-of-life scenarios. But at least the seeds have been sown, and collectors and sorters down the road will surely appreciate it.


NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND MARKETS
For the last two years, the search for recycled PET end-use markets has been led by Frank Endrenyi’s Marketing Collaborative, and his contract with CARE has been extended through the end of 2016. However, his task has been modified, and he now serves on the All Fiber Task Force, chaired by Glenn Odom of Wellman Plastics Recycling. The new task force was put together to include the critical nylon 6 situation.

The search for solutions has so far yielded several compelling possibilities, and grants funded by California’s EPR assessments have played a central role. About a year ago, the University of Connecticut received a $500,000 grant for “Value-Added Uses for PET Derived from Post-Consumer Carpet.” The university team, led by Dr. Richard Parnas, successfully made an engineered construction board, comparable to a fiberboard, from 20% post-consumer PET, 5% binder and 75% bagasse—the pulp left over after juice or sugar extraction from products like beets, sugarcane and grapes. The university research included the cost of making it competitively all the way to the retailer. The UConn team has verbal approval to build a board plant in Louisiana.

Another compelling program comes from a partnership between two Dutch firms—Niaga, which focuses on the development of sustainable materials, and DSM, a global chemical technologies firm. Together they have developed a mono-material residential carpet made entirely of PET—face fiber, binder, primary backing and secondary nonwoven felt-like backing. And the partnership has now followed up with a duo-material carpet for the commercial market, with a nylon fiber and primary backing adhered with a PET binder to a PET secondary backing. The group is currently in talks with U.S. mills, and within the next couple of months, it will announce its plans for manufacturing. (Stay tuned for a progress report on Floordaily.net and in an upcoming issue.)

In fact, with the falling cost of PET, there’s talk in the residential sector about switching from polypropylene to polyester backings in carpet production. However, this could come with its own set of headaches, because many of the leading carpet recyclers currently use water separation processes, like centrifuges, that separate using specific gravity. It’s great for separating polypropylene from other fibers because polypropylene is the only material ingredient that’s lighter than water. 

The All Fiber Task Force has also found a potential technology from Fiberon, a producer of eco-friendly decking with operations in North Carolina and Idaho. Fiberon is creating a new firm that will use recycled PET to make compression molded products for use as trim pieces for windows, among other applications. The firm has purchased a plant in Minnesota and a German press for compression molding, and it plans on producing material by the first quarter of next year, though it might start up even sooner than that.

A start-up called Verdex Technologies, a Richmond, Virginia based firm co-founded by ex-DuPonters, has patented a nozzle that can produce nano-fiber from reclaimed PET carpet face fiber to turn into a nonwoven material. One of the things that distinguishes Verdex is that it can use fairly dirty, low viscosity PET to create a nonwoven that performs as well as the more pure PET streams currently used to make nonwovens. A range of products can be made from the nonwoven, from AC filters to medical facemasks and much more. 

Then there’s Resinate Materials Group, which has patented a conversion technology that turns PET back into polyols for applications like coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers. Part of what makes its technology relevant is that it can, like Verdex, use a fairly dirty PET in its process. 

Another firm, North Coast Fibers, an LLC formed through a partnership between Flooring Transport and Broadview Group, has developed a patent-pending mechanical process that disassembles reclaimed carpet, separating the backing and face fiber from the calcium carbonate and latex, producing a mixed fiber with less than 4% ash. Or, for those interested in recovering specific face fibers, the technology can also separate face fiber from backing fiber to produce material with less than 2% polypropylene (and that material can also go through a de-ashing process to yield less than 4% ash).

Perhaps the most important aspect of this technology is that it does all this in a single process, while most systems out there use two processes. According to the firm, both capital costs and operating costs are 40% lower than can be achieved with competing technologies.

North Coast Fibers is located in Elyria, Ohio, though in the next month or so it will start up an operation in California through a partnership with an existing carpet recycler, focusing for now on PET and polypropylene. Resinate and Verdex, whose technologies should work very well with North Coast’s recycled materials, have both tested samples in the last few months. 

Also, Rocky Ponders from Dalton, Georgia’s Columbia Recycling has co-founded American Fiber Cushion, also in Dalton, which currently takes about a million pounds a month of reclaimed PET carpet fiber out of California, processed by Los Angeles Fibers, which is then shipped to Georgia, allowing both LA Fibers and American Fiber Cushion to take advantage of a range of California subsidies.

SCIENTISTS IDENTIFY BACTERIA THAT EATS POLYESTER
For all the PET that ends up in landfills, a new development may hold the key to a long-term solution. According to a report published by the journal Science earlier this year, a Japanese research team at Kyoto University has identified a species of bacteria that can eat PET and break it down. To accomplish this, the bacteria, named Ideonella sakainesis, first secretes one enzyme to transform the PET into an intermediate chemical, then uses another to break it down even more, a process that provides the bacteria with carbon and energy to grow. 

Down the road, chemistry breakthroughs like this could help generate processes for managing plastic waste that has no viable recycling outlets. Further research will help determine the feasibility of such an approach.


STRESSES ON THE SYSTEM
The movement of sorted or processed fiber from California to other states (mostly in the East) in order to augment revenues via the subsidies is one of the complications arising out of this new reclamation and recycling environment. Recyclers that turn reclaimed materials into new products can make an additional $0.25/lb if they get their material from California, and that’s what many recyclers are trying to do. However, that puts sorters and collectors in the other states at a disadvantage, and puts them under even more pressure, despite the $0.02/lb VPS subsidy.

Within California, the challenges relate to trying to meet the goals of the program with so many issues to contend with. CalRecycle found CARE to be noncompliant for 2013 and 2014, due to the lack of meaningful improvements in recycled output objectives along with some other issues, like insufficient collection sites, and it’s likely to be found noncompliant for 2015 as well.

Most of the meaningful progress should be felt this year, with new technologies coming on line, and with everyone in the recycling and reclamation network hustling to find ways to capitalize on the subsidies. And while CARE has a good relationship with CalRecycle, many of the stakeholders are impatient.

A letter to CalRecycle penned on July 25 by seven entities, including the California Product Stewardship Council, the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the National Stewardship Action Council, among others, urges the organization to “deem CARE non-compliant and enforce the law accordingly.” The stakeholders accuse CARE of using excuses to “distract the reader.” They also mention that most of the recyclers taking advantage of the subsidy for creating end-use products are located outside of California. 

However, the letter does not offer a balanced analysis of the situation, and it doesn’t take into account that this is the worst market for recycling in decades, and that, on a global level, virtually all recycling commodities are down. In fact, in 2015 California reported its first decline in total solid waste recycling in a number of years, down to 47% from 50% according to a CalRecycle report. And the letter’s mention of out-of-state recyclers using the subsidies fails to acknowledge that most of the current carpet recycling capacity is in these other states. And it doesn’t mention that 82% of the grants have been awarded to California based firms.

The point is that context matters. All the stakeholders, CARE included, share a common goal—and the success of this entire endeavor is directly related to the ability of every stakeholder to look beyond their own concerns to take in the big picture. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of people competing for their specific agendas. And it’s worth noting that nowhere in the letter was there even an acknowledgement of the dire conditions impacting the market.

When it comes to collection, CARE is supposed to ensure that recycling is convenient throughout the state, with collection sites in every county. And while CARE launched a program that started in rural areas, placing containers in locations like local landfills, collection has proved more difficult in urban areas, where it’s hard to find room to place containers. Consequently, there are insufficient sites in southern California, where population densities are higher.

Despite the criticisms by stakeholders and difficulty in raising recycling volumes, the EPR program has transformed California’s carpet recycling landscape. And California’s recycling rate is well above the national average.

In 2015, according to CARE’s annual California report, 345 million pounds of post-consumer carpet were discarded in the state, with 103 million pounds of gross collection. And 35 million pounds of material was recovered and recycled, 10% of total discards. 

CARE reports that total U.S. collection in 2015 was 520 million pounds, up marginally from 2014, with 170 million pounds of recycled output. Though California makes up 12% of the population and just over 10% of carpet consumption, it accounts for nearly 20% of all collections and 21% of all recycled output.

One of the interim goals of the California plan is to achieve a recycled output of 16% by the end of 2016. While the latest report (Q1 2016) shows a 9% rate, recent developments leave open the possibility of that target being hit by winter.
BOTTLE RECYCLING UPDATE
While NAPCOR, the National Association for PET Container Resources, won’t come out with its 2015 report until later this year, its 2014 report gives a good idea of where the market is headed and the headwinds it is facing. The fall in crude oil prices has pulled down the price of raw materials used to make virgin PET, which has forced down recycled PET prices, even though the cost of recycling PET has not gone down. And these shrinking margins have impacted all the entities up and down the recycling channel, as well as the leading residential carpet mills that rely on those waste streams. 

Mohawk is the biggest user of recycled bottle fiber, followed by Clear Path Recycling (Shaw) and Marglen (Beaulieu’s sister company). Combined, the three account for approximately 30% of PET bottle reclaiming capacity.

The total available for recycling in 2014 was 5.8 billion pounds, up 1.5% from the previous year. And total post-consumer collection fell marginally from 2013 to 1.8 billion pounds. That 31% collection rate was down minutely, but still up by 50% since 2004.

Negative growth factors include right sizing into smaller bottles, the impact of slowing soft drink sales, and lightweighting (thinner plastic), though that has slowed as bottles approach their lowest functional weight. Positive growth factors were mostly the continued growth in bottled water and specialty drinks, as well as the conversion from other types of packaging.

The impact of China’s “green fence,” restricting what it imports, was also reflected in the 2014 numbers, with a 17% decrease in exports to the region, which helped pull total exports down 12%—and 50% from the 2008 peak.


NOTEWORTHY DEVELOPMENTS
Currently, one of the most successful recycling operations in California is Los Angeles Fibers and its sister company, Reliance Carpet Cushion, since it can take a range of fibers of varying quality and readily turn them into an end-use product. And its partnership with American Fiber Cushion, which targets the residential market, should be just as successful. Reliance Carpet Cushion’s strongest market is hospitality.

Another player effecting change is Illinois’ Clear Carpet Recycling, which has opened up another operation in Sacramento, California, focusing, at least for now, on polypropylene recycling. 

XT Green, which has received a $250,000 CARE grant, is setting up an operation called EarthCare Carpet Recycling near Los Angeles, which should be up and running in early 2017. EarthCare will use brand-new advanced technology to process nylon, with 100% separation from polypropylene and less than 1% ash. And EarthCare’s process also works with commercial broadloom, which is currently the most difficult type of carpet to recycle. So the firm will accept both residential and commercial carpet, and it will output not just nylon, but also polypropylene and calcium carbonate.

Then there’s Aquafil’s carpet shearing operation, located in Cartersville, Georgia, which has been in operation for about a year and a half. Aquafil, the 2016 CARE Recycler of the Year, has nylon 6 production facilities in the U.S. and Europe, along with a depolymerization operation in Slovenia, which borders Italy, where Aquafil is headquartered.

The firm is currently focused on improving efficiencies, mostly around its depolymerization processes, and it’s also looking beyond shearing toward other technologies that offer higher yields, like component separation. Its Econyl nylon 6 fiber, which features 100% recycled content—half from post-consumer waste streams—goes not just into new carpet but also into apparel, including Speedo swimwear and Levi’s 522 jeans. And Adidas is also launching swimwear and sneaker lines using Econyl.

Another significant player is Shaw Industries, which is continuing to ramp up its new Evergreen recycling operation in Ringgold, Georgia. Its old Evergreen Augusta operation, shut down about a year ago, used to take in about 100 million pounds of reclaimed nylon 6 carpet annually, which it depolymerized and turned into new nylon 6. The new Evergreen uses mechanical separation to produce separate fiber streams, and it’s currently processing both nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 for sale to the engineered plastics market. 

While the new Evergreen has gone through a tough learning curve to fine-tune its process and optimize operations, the firm reports that the kinks have largely been worked out, and it’s currently processing post-consumer carpet at an increasing rate, operating a full set of shifts. 

Shaw, the largest carpet producer in the world, is noteworthy because it has made such massive investments in carpet reclamation and generated a lot of goodwill along the way. Evergreen Augusta was expensive to both purchase and operate, and the new Evergreen was also a massive investment. But beyond that, Shaw has also shown its allegiance to the reclamation and recycling community through actions such as warehousing large volumes of nylon 6,6 a few years ago while CARE and others scrambled (successfully) to develop end-use markets for the fiber.

Another major recycling development came in June at the NeoCon show in Chicago, where Universal Fibers unveiled its greenest fiber yet. Thrive is a solution-dyed nylon 6,6 with 75% recycled content—65% post-industrial and 10% post-consumer. Its CO2 impact, peer-reviewed by WAP Sustainability Consulting, measures 3.69 kilograms for every kilogram of yarn. According to Universal Fibers, that compares favorably to ten kilograms per kilogram of fiber for traditional fiber systems.

LOOKING AHEAD
While CARE may be found noncompliant and even fined for not meeting agreed-upon objectives, it’s unlikely that the EPR is itself in any danger—it’s well established that once subsidies start, it’s hard to eliminate them. And the new technologies, which are already boosting recycling rates, will probably yield significant growth in 2016 and beyond. But the current system, with the rest of the nation tied to the VPS plan, does not represent a long-term solution. 

Most of the carpet mills do not favor EPR legislation in other states and have actively opposed it. Their reluctance revolves around a couple of key issues. One is based on a concern that if assessments like California’s are rolled out across the other states, it will put carpet in a competitive disadvantage against hard surface floorcoverings, to which it has been steadily ceding share for at least a couple of decades. And if it’s not hard surface flooring that takes the share, customers could instead seek out less expensive carpet, which would only accelerate carpet’s demise. And it would also impact the value of post-consumer waste streams.

The other issue has to do with bureaucratic chaos. Were states to start rolling out their own individual EPR legislations, the resulting patchwork quilt would be a recipe for disaster. And there’s also the administrative fees to consider—with California’s EPR about double that of the VPS plan.

It’s hard to argue with that logic. In fact, it leaves only one solution, and that is standardized EPRs. This doesn’t mean a federal program, which riles proponents of small government. Instead, states could adopt the California model in toto. It’s not unprecedented. In fact, that’s the way things tend to work. That’s what’s gradually occurring with mattress recycling. Connecticut came out with the first mattress EPR in 2013, followed closely by California and Rhode Island, which are using the same general model developed by Connecticut stakeholders and the Product Stewardship Institute. 

When it comes to paint recycling, Oregon was the first in 2011, and since then, eight states and Washington, D.C. have rolled out EPR laws based on the original Oregon legislation. And in 2014, Vermont passed the first EPR for single-use batteries (non-rechargeable), followed by California and Minnesota.

However, the most visible example is a program that’s central to the carpet recycling infrastructure—PET bottles. Ten states have bottle bills based on the original Oregon legislation, and the programs have helped drive the PET recycling industry. Overall, states with bottle bills have recycling rates that are more than double the national average. 

However, there is fraud—crossing state lines with bottles to get a hold of deposit funds. In fact, California’s PET bottle recycling volume dropped in 2014, likely because of increased fraud enforcement. 

Mind you, there would be no fraud at all if every state had a bottle bill. But efforts to pass bottle bills in other states have met with failure, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the U.S. beverage container industry—even though the deposits don’t have any impact on the purchase of bottled beverages. 


RECLAMATION FROM CONTRACT DEALER NETWORKS
Both Starnet and Fuse, the two independent commercial contractor networks, have established carpet reclamation initiatives to encourage members to divert commercial carpet from landfills. 

Starnet launched its program in 2005, and in that time its members have reclaimed 57 million pounds of carpet, though the pace has slowed from a few years ago. Starnet members doing renovation projects first assess the carpet on the floor and determine the options. For instance, all Starnet vendor partners provide Starnet members with direct web links to their environmental programs, enabling contract dealers to determine if the mill has a system for taking back carpet. If the manufacturer of the new carpet going down can’t use the old carpet, and if no other obvious solutions present themselves, Starnet will work with CARE to determine the best options for the material. And if there are no good options, including repurposing, the used carpet will be transported for waste-to-energy programs.

Fuse launched its Ecollect program in 2008, and through April of last year had reclaimed over 46 million pounds of carpet. And the group estimates that total diversions to date top 60 million pounds. One member alone, Atlanta-based Certified Finishes, has diverted about 1.7 million pounds in the last 18 months. Strategies include recycling and repurposing, and Fuse will also send carpet as waste-to-energy as a last resort—most of that is broadloom. Another member, Miami’s Resource for Floors, tells general contractors that if the existing flooring is carpet tile, it will remove the carpet itself in order to recapture the material.

The trend toward floating installation for carpet tile is appealing to both groups, because it makes product removal so much more straightforward than removing carpet installed with full spread adhesive—and it’s also easier on recyclers. Fuse estimates that full spread installations only account for a quarter or a third of all new carpet tile installations, but most of what’s coming off the floor is still glued down.


Copyright 2016 Floor Focus