Carpet Sustainability Review - Aug/Sep 2010

By Darius Helm & Jessica Chevalier

There are two ways in which the U.S. carpet industry is a model for domestic manufacturing. One is that it has firmly maintained its position while furniture and textile production has fled halfway across the globe; it’s a sprawling multi-billion dollar industry made of factories producing durable goods without subsidy or the competitive advantage of domestic raw materials, and yet it hasn’t been outsourced. 

The other is that the carpet industry has fully embraced green manufacturing and to a degree that allows for no retreat. The payoff lies beyond the horizon, in the undefined landscape of a full-blown sustainable society and an economy oriented around the value of green.

That’s not to say that the carpet industry has completed its sustainable journey. That’s still a long way away. But the system has shifted to the point where the big gains lie in moving forward—in the new model, not the old. Greening is a race for future marketshare.

Furthermore, as though by design, this greening of the U.S. carpet industry has virtually guaranteed that the manufacturing industry will stay on U.S. soil, since sustainable models heavily favor domestic and regional production. So, in more ways than one, the carpet industry is a legacy for future generations of Americans.

WOOL'S GREEN PROFILE

Wool boasts many sustainable benefits that extend beyond its nature as a renewable resource. The structure of wool, which acts like a coiled spring, offers a natural mechanism for resisting flattening and tracking, and this resilience means less need for replacement. Additionally, the natural crimp structure of the fibers causes them to stand apart from one another, creating tiny air pockets that insulate--thereby reducing the consumption of energy. The fiber's construction provides it with the ability to filter air and trap particulates, improving air quality in the environment within which it6 is used.

In addition, wool has the ability to absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling wet. And, when humidity within an environment drops, the fiber disperses the moisture back into the atmosphere. This high water content, and a high nitrogen content, also means that wool has a high ignition temperature of 600˚F. In fact, the fiber meets many flammability regulations without any application of flame-resistant chemicals. Wool does not produce noxious fumes as synthetic fibers do when burned, fumes which are detrimental to the health to those who breathe them.

In mid September, the Wool: Clean Air Certified program, managed by Wools of New Zealand, will be launched. Under the program, certified carpets and rugs contribute to one LEED point in the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Credit 4.3: Low-Emitting Materials-Flooring Systems category for all LEED projects. Wool: Clean Air Certified seeks to communicate that wool not only passes VOC emissions tests but also cleanses the air--removing particulates from the environment and even neutralizing harmful gasses such as formaldehyde. The program is open to carpets and rugs that are composed of at lest 50% wool. In addition, Wools of New Zealand's Laneve branded carpets and rugs are composed of wool that is traceable back to particular farmers. The farmers meet standards of responsibility in relation to animal welfare, land management, farming practices, traceability and environmental standards.

British Wool, the brand of the British Wool Marketing Board, introduced The Wool Project to the U.S. at Surfaces 2010. The campaign's goal is to promote the use of wool and educate buyers, retailers and end-users about the benefits of wool as a natural and sustainable fiber. In particular, the company highlights the Life Cycle Analysis of wool, conducted by Leeds University, which found that wool makes far less of a negative environmental impact than either nylon or polypropylene.


FIBER BREAKTHROUGHS
The greening of carpet started on the back of the product, but over the last few years the attention has shifted to the face, and the pace of fiber innovation is accelerating. In terms of sustainability, the focus is on four face fibers: nylon 6, nylon 6,6, polyester and triexta. Each comes with its own unique bag of tricks. 

Over the last several years, arguably the most prominent piece of the greening of nylon 6 has come from Shaw’s Evergreen Nylon Recycling facility in Augusta, Georgia. Last year, 100 million pounds of carpet was funneled through Evergreen, and 85% to 90% of the carpet was nylon 6—thanks in part to equipment carried by the carpet reclaimers that can determine fiber types. Evergreen processes the carpet into two waste streams, caprolactam and a co-product that is used as filler, and the caprolactam goes on to make new nylon 6.

Another big player in the nylon 6 arena is Aquafil, which extrudes fiber for the North American market in its Cartersville, Georgia operation and also has synthesizing facilities in Italy and Slovenia. The firm offers a solution-dyed nylon called Econyl Next, using carpet reclaimed through its customers. The carpet is sheared, filtered to 99% purity and blended with virgin nylon for a 10% post-consumer content. Since most of the fiber collected is piece dyed (and the dyestuff is only on the fiber’s surface), the colors have a minimal impact on the final color of the yarn, which ends up being a very light green base, suitable for a full range of solution-dyed hues.

Econyl 75 captures entirely different waste streams, focusing instead on 5% non-carpet post-consumer nylon content and 65% post-industrial content from manufacturing waste. That post-industrial content includes waste from the polymerization process—only 90% to 95% of the lactam polymerizes, and the balance remains in the water from the manufacturing process, which the firm then recaptures and funnels back into the polymerization process.

By early next year, Aquafil should have a facility in Slovenia up and running for the production of nylon 6 that will likely have 65% post-industrial content and 25% post-consumer content. The new technology, which is designed to work with reclaimed face fiber of a lower purity level, will allow Aquafil to create fully dyeable polymer, usable both as solution dyed and white, and in significant quantities. The lower purity level, about 85%, opens up the firm to a much bigger and more affordable supply. The new fiber will be called, simply, Econyl.

Another new development in nylon 6 comes from Tandus Flooring’s partnership with NatureWorks, a division of Cargill, for the production of Genesis, a fiber with a nylon sheath and a bio-based core. The fiber, which is extruded by Tandus, has been installed in a 25,000 square yard job in a corporate campus in Minneapolis.

Genesis is 15% bio-based, which translates to around 3.5% of the total weight of a carpet tile. Tandus wants to push that number to 5% to meet key green benchmarks. The fiber, which can be white or solution dyed, is suitable for all loop pile constructions. The firm is currently looking for more projects of 25,000 yards or more for Genesis fiber installations.

Zeftron, the commercial nylon fiber business acquired along with the Anso residential fiber brand in Shaw’s acquisition of Honeywell five years ago, has been running its 6ix Again Carpet Recovery Program since 1994. In fact, it’s one of the earliest environmental programs in the carpet industry. Since the acquisition, Zeftron branded yarns have been sold to Shaw’s competitors, but not to Shaw.

Zeftron’s solution-dyed nylon 6, made in Bainbridge, Alabama, features 25% recycled content in all 105 colors. The firm’s 6ix Again program enables anyone installing a Zeftron branded carpet to return it for recycling at the end of its useful life, regardless what kind of carpet replaces it, and the program also recycles old carpet, regardless of the type, as long as the replacement carpet is made of Zeftron fiber.

When it comes to nylon 6,6, which has long been touted as the better performing nylon due to its higher melting point and other durability attributes, one of the best recycling loops comes from Interface Inc.’s partnership with Universal Fibers. Three years ago, the firms began working together on recycling post-consumer nylon 6,6 into new solution-dyed fiber. It started small, and with only dark colors, but the program has quickly expanded in both volume and color variety.

Universal produces nylon 6,6 with post-consumer recycled content as high as 17%, depending on the color (it averages around 13%). The fiber, based on reclaimed nylon 6,6 from Interface Inc.’s clean separation technology, is exclusive to Interface Inc. companies. However, Universal also makes nylon 6,6 with high post-industrial content for the rest of the market. Average recycled content is about 50%, again depending on the color, and it can go as high as 80% or even 90%, if you’ve got your heart set on a black carpet.

Universal is not dedicated to a single polymer stream; it also produces nylon 6 and polyester. The firm is currently focusing on recycling technologies like decontamination, dissolution, depolymerization and bio-based chemistries to develop green programs for all its fiber types.

At this year’s NeoCon, Invista introduced TruBlend, the first solution-dyed nylon 6,6 to feature post-consumer and post-industrial content as well as bio-based content. This follows last year’s introduction of Bio-Antron, an undyed nylon 6,6 with 10% bio-based content from castor bean oil.

TruBlend features 22.5% post-industrial content, 2.5% post-consumer content and 5% bio-based content, also derived from castor bean oil. It won a Best of NeoCon Gold in the carpet fiber category. The fiber was rolled out in seven colors with InterfaceFlor.

Invista worked with Boustead Consulting to do a lifecycle analysis and followed that up with certification as an Environmentally Preferable Product by Scientific Certification Systems. Baustead compared Invista’s North American Antron fibers to the eco-profiles of nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 using industry averages provided by Plastics of Europe, and it determined that Antron fibers last up to 75% longer, are 38% more energy efficient, and lead to 44% less emission intensity.

Triexta, which was once called PTT, is for now largely the story of one supplier, DuPont. And until recently it was all about one carpet manufacturer, Mohawk. Triexta (polytrimethylene terephthalate) is formed by combining 1.3 propanediol (PDO) and terephthalic acid. What DuPont did was source from Tate & Lyle a bio-PDO derived from fermented corn, which it used instead of petroleum-based PDO to make Sorona, a triexta with 37% bio-based content.

Mohawk has used Sorona for its SmartStrand residential fiber for a number of years, and it’s been very popular, with a durability and stain resistance comparable to nylon. Now DuPont is offering its triexta to the commercial market, and the first taker was in fact Mohawk, which introduced triexta styles in its Durkan and Karastan brands. Hospitality carpet mill Clayton Miller has also introduced Sorona fiber on its carpet, and more are expected to sign on for the fiber in the coming months.

One common misconception about DuPont’s Sorona is that the bio-based component is somehow reflected in the product, perhaps in the performance, durability or resilience of the fiber. In fact, according to DuPont, the fermented corn sugars are used as a molecular source much like petroleum is used for standard triexta—the molecular structures are identical, and as any chemist will attest, that means the products are identical. It’s not bio-degradable, and it has the same thermoplastic qualities.

DuPont worked with Five Winds Consulting for a lifecycle analysis of Sorona, and determined that production of Sorona, pound for pound, reduces CO2 emissions 63% over generic nylon 6 and 57% over nylon 6,6. Further, it determined that Sorona production uses 30% less energy than nylon 6 and 40% less than nylon 6,6.

Polyester fiber (PET) is used only in the residential market, and it has been growing in share for the past few years, in part due to pricing compared to nylon. Today’s polyester is vastly different than the first generation product used 20 years ago. The wear performance has been enhanced with filament construction and added twist. What’s most notable about polyester is the vast waste stream of drink bottles that is largely funneled through Mohawk, Beaulieu and, most recently, Shaw. 

Traditionally, polyester has been turned into staple fiber with rates as high as 100% post-consumer content, but as the industry has shifted away from staple and toward BCF (bulk continuous filament), new technologies have been developed to build post-consumer content on the filament side. For now, recycled PET content in filament is generally well under 50%.

Mohawk has the biggest PET reclamation program in the industry. According to the firm, it reuses about 25% of all the recycled drink bottles in North America. Its staple PET is made out of 100% drink bottles, but the firm is now focusing on its EverStrand BCF fiber to increase recycled content without compromising performance.

Beaulieu takes in plastic bottles through its Marglen division, which uses clear or “ice-blue” bottles to make clear chips that Beaulieu then extrudes, and it funnels the more difficult PET bottles, like the dark green ones, into products like pad. Like Mohawk, Beaulieu’s staple PET is 100% post-consumer, while it’s more of a challenge on the filament side. However, as polyester filament continues to gain against the other fiber types, Beaulieu has been adding equipment over the last couple of years, boosting capacity.

Last month, Clear Path Recycling, a joint venture between Shaw Industries and DAK Americas, began operations. The facility, located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, turns PET drink bottles into polyester fiber. The polyester flake will be mixed with virgin PET to make the firm’s ClearTouch polyester filament, with 25% post-consumer content. The first phase of the project ramp-up should reclaim product at a rate of about 150 million pounds of plastic bottles a year, which according to Shaw saves the equivalent of 1.4 trillion BTUs annually, about what it takes to power 10,000 U.S. homes a year.

WHY GET AN EPD?

There's little doubt that the evolution of environmental standards and certifications has led to equal portions of hope and despair. Companies committed to sustainability see the value of those evolving standards, but having to keep up with that evolution and constantly realigning one's objectives to run in harmony with the most progressive environmental standards can be inefficient and frustrating.

It's kind of like buying a computer in the 1990s. You threw down your hard earned cash and plugged in your shiny machine, and it seemed that no sooner had you figured out how to make the most of it than the world it was designed to interact with--the programs, the software--had already outpaced it. Time for a new computer, a new operating system, a new way of doing things.

It all makes sense, though. Multi-attribute systems, for instance, are clearly a better way to define a green product than a single attribute or even a handful of them. That's why carpet companies have embraced NSF-140. And there's little debate over the value of a comprehensive lifecycle analysis. And when you think about it,, an environmental product declaration (EPD), which dissects product and process until no polymer is left unturned and no watt is undeclared, seems to cover all the bases.

In many ways, Europe is ahead of North America in terms of sustainability. In general, it's more heavily regulated, but those very regulations have helped in the deployment of comprehensive standards. In 2006, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) finalized ISO Standard 14025, the environmental product declaration. It's a complex program, developed in Europe using generic EPDs, a range of product category rules (PCRs) to level playing fields and make product comparisons possible, and including ISO-compliant and third-party verified lifecycle assessments. It has been peer-reviewed and fine-turned by global experts, and methods have been developed to convey its information in useful and manageable formats. By and large, it's seen as honest and transparent.

In Europe, hundreds of companies have completed EPDs, but so far in the U.S. few companies have taken that step. To date, the only flooring companies with EPDs are InterfaceFlor and Bentley Prince Street. However, Shaw Industries, the first firm to actually sign on with The green Standard, a program operator that guides companies in the development of EPDs, is in the process as well. The Green Standard essentially provides the template, and verification is done by other entities--Five Winds, in the case of Bentley Prince Street.

Ultimately, each company must decide for itself whether EPDs are the inevitable outcome of a march toward sustainability, and whether any competitive advantage gained by having an EPD outweighs the potential downside of revealing information that has traditionally been confidential. At its core, an EPD is about transparency and about finding a common ground, an accepted standard for comparison. And while there's no doubt that's what the client wants, whether companies are prepared to stand up and be counted remains to be seen.


CARE UPDATE 
The Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) is a joint industry-government collaboration that seeks to increase the amount of carpet that is being recycled as well as find marketable applications for the post-consumer materials that are produced. In 2009, CARE members diverted 311 million pounds of carpet, a 6% increase from 2008 levels; 246 million pounds of the diverted product was recycled. The number of collectors across the U.S. jumped from 58 to 74 last year. After 2008’s decrease in both diversion and recycling, 2009 represents a return to normalcy for CARE. The organization anticipates that 2010 will show increases in diversion and demand for recycled material as well.

Forty-five percent of the post-consumer material that is produced from recycled carpet is utilized by carpet manufacturers to create face fiber and backing. Makers of engineered resins represent the second largest user of the waste stream material. Often the resulting pelletized material is used to make automotive parts, generally recycled nylon 6,6. As there is always an abundance of recycled material available, CARE’s top priority is to increase these waste streams and find new uses for the recycled product.

Reclaimed product represents 5.3% of the total waste stream of carpet. In 2009, 49% of that reclaimed product was nylon 6, and 27% was nylon 6,6. As carpet manufacturers have moved fiber production in-house, the production of nylon 6 has risen, while nylon 6,6 production has decreased. For a time, this created a bottleneck for recyclers, who had an excess of 6,6 being pulled off floors but fewer outlets who wanted to buy the fiber after it had been recycled, especially after the automotive industry faltered. That bottleneck seems to be loosening a little, as the amount of nylon 6 taken in for recycling is more in sync with current demand.

One timely new use for recycled carpet is GeoHay. GeoHay, processed face fiber, was originally used for erosion control. However, it was discovered that the product also had the ability to absorb oil. In an oil spill situation, such as the Gulf of Mexico, GeoHay allows the water to pass through but traps the oil. When the product is at full capacity, the oil can be pressed out, and the GeoHay can be reused. At present, GeoHay is being utilized in both the Fort Walton, Florida beach area and at Orange Beach, Alabama. 

CARE and the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) are collaborating on an initiative called the Sustainable Funding Program in which a per-yard fee would be assessed to carpet buyers to help grow recycling carpet programs and provide funding for organizations or individuals developing new, but proven, recycling processes or products. At present, the organizations anticipate that the fee would be approximately 5¢ per square yard. CARE and CRI are working on two fronts to move the Sustainable Funding Program from concept to practice. First, they hope to implement the program at state level; second, they seek to make the program a federal mandate. Ultimately, CARE will act as the execution arm of the program, heading up administration and management. 

California is currently working on a bill entitled AB 2398 Product Stewardship for Carpet, which has some goals that complement those of CARE. The bill would require producers of carpet to submit a carpet stewardship plan, including details of funding their plan. Ultimately, the goal of the bill is to divert carpet from landfills and enhance recycling efforts. A final decision on AB 2398 should be reached around the end of August 2010 and producers would be required to submit their stewardship plans by September 30, 2011.

The CARE website has several new introductions to help its members. For participating retailers, the site offers marketing materials, press releases and presentations to assist in educating customers and communicating the CARE mission. Carpet buyers can use CARE’s site to locate floorcovering dealers in their area that participate in recycling efforts. Participating dealers can find resources to assist them in bidding on recycling jobs, and specifiers can use the site’s Construction Specification Institute MasterFormat template to simplify the specification process.

For 2009, CARE Recycler of the Year was Shaw industries for its work at its Evergreen Nylon Recycling facility in Augusta, Georgia and for its Reclaim to Energy (Re2E) project, a carpet-fueled co-generation facility in Dalton, Georgia that hopes to consume 75 million pounds of waste material annually. CARE executive director Georgina Sikorski was named the organization’s Person of the Year. 

SAVE ENERGY NOW

Last December, the Dpartment of Energy launched its Save Energy Now Leader Program, designed to provide resources and technical assistance to companies that pledge to reduce energy intensity by 25% in ten years. Energy intensity is defined as energy per unit output.

So far, over 80 companies have signed the pledge, including Shaw Industries, Bentley Prince Street, Mohawk Industries and Mannington Mills. Other notable companies on the list include General Motors, Cargill, Dow Chemical, Raytheon, PPG Industries, Omnova Solutions, Proctor & Gamble, PepsiCo, Lockhead Martin, Nissan North America, Owens Corning, Ingersoll Rand, Danfoss and Goodyear.

The ten-year period starts from a pre-designated baseline. for instance, Mannington's aim is to hit its goal by 2018, based on a baseline from 2008, while Shaw is going from 2007 to 2017.


RECLAMATION HIGHLIGHTS
CARE may have had a good year, but the shaky progress of the last few years has revealed how intricate and complex it can be to develop a new industrial infrastructure. What you don’t see in a mature industry is the delicate balance between all the parts, between suppliers, capacities, outputs, distribution, end-users—all key to the industry’s smooth operation—and that’s because time has done the balancing, and the gradual evolution of the industry has fine-tuned all those relationships.

That’s not the case in the sudden development of business infrastructures, and the last few years of the carpet reclamation industry have been witness to that. Issues like efficiency, unforeseen accidents, and supply and demand have succeeded in putting recyclers out of work and have created some ugly bottlenecks, most notably with nylon 6,6. 

It was about three years ago that the fire at Columbia Recycling, a major nylon 6,6 recycler, and a drop in demand from the flagging automotive industry helped create a significant build-up of reclaimed nylon 6,6 inventory and exposed the vulnerability of the reclamation business. 

Part of the problem was fiber ratios. Over the last decade, fiber production has shifted from a preponderance of nylon 6,6 from the independent fiber producers to the rise of inhouse extruded nylon 6. And what that meant in terms of reclamation was that the ratio of fibers being reclaimed didn’t synch with what mills were producing. 

Complicating the issue was that the carpet collectors didn’t necessarily know what they were picking up, unless they happened to have a pricey portable gizmo that could read fiber types. So they would haul a bunch of carpet back to their facility only to discover that it was largely nylon 6,6, which they couldn’t sell.

Following the Columbia Recycling fire, which put further pressure on that waste stream, collectors and recyclers, including Shaw’s Evergreen, warehoused as much nylon 6,6 as they could, but warehousing is expensive and it began to eat away at the slim margins under which the recyclers were already operating.

Since then, CARE has been working hard to pave the way for more outlets in the plastics industry at large, an effort that will likely pay dividends in the years to come, and over the last few months the rebound in automotive business has eased the bottleneck.

Also easing the pain is the gradual shift in recycled fiber. Back in 1999, when LA Fibers, a leading independent recycler, was first getting into the business, nylon 6,6 accounted for 45% of the waste flow and nylon 6 was closer to 30%. Last year, nylon 6,6 was under 30% and nylon 6 climbed to about 50%, and those numbers will continue to swing in favor of nylon 6.

However, the reclamation industry now faces the rise of PET, and that may present even bigger problems. First of all, there’s a lot of residential carpet in the waste stream because it offers a high yield of face fiber compared to commercial carpet, and PET’s a residential fiber. So recyclers are going to find themselves with vast stocks of PET.

Secondly, there’s the issue of PET’s recyclability. While it’s a thermoplastic, it has a lower molecular weight than PVC and the nylons, and that means that it degrades more easily during remelting. That’s why it’s easier to turn plastic bottles into staple fiber than into filament, and unfortunately demand for staple is sinking quickly. Furthermore, the PET entering the reclamation stream will largely be post-consumer content from bottles—in other words, PET that has already been remelted once. And on top of that, polyester carpet doesn’t last as long as nylon carpet, so it’ll be cycling back into waste that much faster.

So polyester won’t be a high value reclaimed material, and yet the market will be inundated with it. The hope is that, before this comes to pass, the industry will have found ways to sustainably reuse all that PET.

LA Fibers has a solution, and its president, Ron Greitzer, has been pushing it for years: carpet cushion. LA Fibers reclaims all types of carpet and separates them into component waste streams. The firm supplies the engineered resin market with nylons and a limited amount of polypropylene, and its Stainmaster EcoSoft fully recyclable cushion takes only nylon 6,6, but its Reliance Carpet Eco-Cushion, which competes with rebond pad, takes a full mix of fibers.

Last year, business was up significantly at LA Fibers, in part because of the revitalized engineered resin market. Also, its partnership with Stainmaster on EcoSoft pad, launched late last year, has created a new market, but that program relies heavily on the hospitality sector, which is in the middle of a big slump and is still a couple of years away from a significant rebound.

On the carpet mill side, the biggest recyclers of nylon 6,6 are probably InterfaceFlor and Mohawk. Mohawk reports that its GreenWorks recycling center is busier than ever, now that demand is rebounding, and it’s even adding shifts to recycle more nylon 6,6. Over the last year, the volume of material that GreenWorks has reclaimed and successfully processed has more than doubled.

Mohawk’s GreenWorks facility can separate nylon 6, nylon 6,6 and polypropylene into three purified polymer streams, and the firm has developed end-use markets and customers for all three streams. Currently, those markets are outside of the carpet industry, but the firm is also developing programs for recycling those reclaimed polymers within the industry. 

InterfaceFlor reports that reclamation is up this year, but it fell sharply from 2008 to 2009, going from 43 million pounds to 25 million pounds, largely because of that automotive slowdown (which forced a temporary suspension of operations at the beginning of 2009). Another reason for the slowdown had to do with fine-tuning the reclamation mechanism, a fee versus rebate system based on the value of the reclaimed material. 

Reclaiming tile, for instance, is the most efficient ReEntry process, so it brings greater value, while broadloom comes with an average of about 30% latex, a low value product that is also costly to remove from the rest of the carpet. Commercial broadloom generally has the lowest value because, on top of all that latex, the low pile heights yield less nylon. Adjusting the cost-value equation has slowed down the yield, but it has also increased efficiency. 

These days, all the big carpet mills play a significant role in carpet reclamation. Shaw’s Evergreen is not only the anchor for nylon 6 reclamation but it’s also by far the single biggest carpet fiber loop in the stream of product that runs toward landfills at a rate of about 4.5 billion pounds a year.

Tandus Flooring is another one with a big reclamation program, closing in on a cumulative diversion of 200 million pounds. The firm, which channels most of the carpet it reclaims into its ER3 backing, has third-party certification for the recycled content offered in its various products, and just last month it also had its environmental center third-party certified, by Scientific Certification Systems.

J+J/Invision has seen reclamation rates more than double over the last year, going from less than 100,000 pounds a month to over 200,000 pounds.

Milliken, which has a reclamation program centered around repurposed carpet, is taking a closer look at the range of recycling possibilities, in part because the broadloom portion of its business has recently shot up with its acquisition of Constantine. The firm’s reuse partnership with organizations like Habitat for Humanity is largely based on the ease with which carpet tile can be cleaned and repurposed. Reuse currently accounts for about 75% of Milliken’s waste stream. Another 22% is recycled, and the balance goes for waste-to-energy.

Shaw’s new Reclaim-to-Energy (Re2E) facility, a boiler specifically designed to use carpet as a fuel, will start up this fall, and the plan is to feed it about 75 million pounds a year, half internal waste and half post-consumer carpet. The co-generation will also provide steam for Plant 80 and electricity for the processing building.

Mannington’s reclamation program, which seems to be taking in product at a steady rate, includes a unique diversion of carpet into the backing of a resilient sheet line called Relay RE, for 20% post-consumer content and 15% post-industrial content. The firm also offers 10% post-consumer content on commercial carpet.

One product poised to start pulling product from the reclamation stream is Beaulieu’s Nexterra, which has a minimum 53% post-consumer content, largely from PET bottles and filler like ground glass. It’s designed for reuse, and with five years in the market it’s about to start coming back.

That’s exactly what’s happening with Shaw’s EcoWorx tile, a product designed for closed-loop recycling that’s been on the market for about a decade. The elutriation process, which separates the components, takes place in Cartersville, and at the beginning of this year the operation was expanded to quadruple capacity in order to accommodate the volume that’s on the verge of flowing back from end-users.

LEED UPDATE

Though the LEED rating system has often been viewed primarily as a tool for commercial building and renovation, in the two-and-a-half years since LEED for Homes was established, 6,836 homes have been certified, as have 74 neighborhood development projects. This exceeds the number of commercial projects that have been certified, which stands at 6,133; 631 of those commercial certifications took place in 2009. However, square-foot-wise, commercial jobs still account for significantly more than homes. In the last year, 10,000 units have registered with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) as intending to certify as LEED homes; a total of 20,000 homes are currently in the certification process. The USGBC reports seeing certification activity in many housing sectors, including single- and multi-family, affordable and market-rate, production, custom and military.

The USGBC is working to increase consumers' level of understanding on green home issues through its new consumer site, The Green Home Guide (www.greenhomeguilde.com). On this site, consumers can learn about sustainable building and renovation choices, including flooring options, and connect with green brands and professionals available in their locale. Currently, the site has 33 flooring companies included in its listing.

The LEED for Homes rating system is scheduled to update in 2012. The USGBC is currently reviewing its policy on certified hardwood flooring. This could potentially impact the number of LEED points available for hardwood. The organization is now in its fourth round of open comment on the certified hardwood issue.


BACKING DEVELOPMENTS
Backings do a lot of the environmental grunt work, tasked to maintain performance and efficiency while working with whatever disparate plastics and fillers are thrown their way. There’s plenty of room for innovation in the backing business, for both independent backing producers and the mills themselves.

One of the more innovative programs is Styron’s Lomax Technology. Styron, the new name for what was formerly Dow’s latex business, uses methane piped from the Dalton landfill to fuel boilers that run latex production. The methane replaces 90% of the fuel needed to make the latex. The two-year-old program, which to date has offset the release of nearly 80 million pounds of CO2, has partnered with Mohawk Residential and commercial mills like J+J/Invision, Atlas, Masland Contract, Blueridge, and, most recently, Mohawk’s Bigelow brand. And there’s plenty of capacity to accommodate more partners. According to the firm, using Lomax technology can improve a carbon footprint by 25%.

However, the biggest news at Styron is the introduction of its Enversa Cushion Technology. The new product is made using a carboxylated latex technology, rather than the sulfur vulcanization process that releases both sulfur and ammonia. According to the firm, Enversa, which is competitively priced with traditional latex technology and can generally be applied using existing latex carpet backing equipment, took ten years to develop and trials are being run in locations all around the world. 

Universal Textile Technologies (UTT), a producer of high performance backings, traditionally for the commercial market, recently entered the residential market with its EnviroCel Home. UTT’s EnviroCel line features total recycled and bio-based content of 65% to 85%. An average of four 16-ounce water bottles go into every yard of backing UTT produces, and so far the firm has recycled over 300 million bottles.

Now, UTT is putting its EnviroCel Cushion, which has the maximum green content, on residential carpet tile. The firm is running trials across the country, with the intention of launching the product at Surfaces 2011. It’s also testing hospitality carpet tile backings.

Recently, the firm partnered with Yellowstone National Park to reclaim a large volume of plastic bottles for recycling into carpet backing, and it’s looking for more projects of that nature. UTT is also working with a team on recycling Marriott sheets and towels.

There are also green options in the underlayment business. For instance, Healthier Choice makes unattached residential cushion from frothed polyurethane foam. More than half the product, by weight, is from calcium carbonate and soybean polyol, and the balance is virgin material, but the cushion is designed to be 100% recyclable. The firm’s products have Greenguard and Greenguard for Children and Schools low VOC certifications, and they’re sold both through distribution and to big boxes like Home Depot and Menards. 

Also, MP Global Products, an underlayment producer with a range of specialty products, has had its entire fiber underlayment line, which is manufactured in Norfolk, Nebraska, third-party certified by SCS for recycled content as well as for VOCs, achieving Indoor Advantage Gold. 

The firm’s biggest seller, QuietWalk, with over a billion square feet installed over the last decade to deaden sound under floating laminate flooring and engineered hardwood, features 95% post-industrial recycled content, and its FiberBacker underlayment is 100% recycled. The post-industrial content, mostly polypropylene and polyester, comes from the textile industry.

SYSTEM AND PROCESS
This year it seems that many of the carpet mills were focused on process—how to approach sustainability, how to measure it, how to tackle it most effectively, and how to manage it. For instance, Shaw has formed its Growth and Sustainability Council, a 21-person group more or less composed of the top echelon at the firm. The council is divided into five focus areas: energy and water use, design and framework, materials recovery and stewardship, environmental and safety excellence, and corporate responsibility. Each of these areas has a team tasked with coming up with programs and initiatives. For instance, the Re2E facility was born out of the energy and water use group, and the materials recovery and stewardship group is behind the firm’s zero waste to landfill goal, which for now appears to be targeting 2018.

Milliken, meanwhile, is adjusting the way it both looks at and charts sustainability. The firm is shifting from a total emphasis on the triple bottom line (ecological, economic and social sustainability) to a model that uses eco-innovation—where sustainability acts as a driver for innovation. Milliken is also adjusting its baselines to emphasize year-on-year improvements, shooting for, for instance, 5% reductions in specific attributes per year.

Mohawk has formalized its sustainability approach over the last year, naming Bill Kilbride as chief sustainability officer and promoting Jenny Cross to director of sustainability in October 2009. Kilbride will oversee and coordinate sustainability programs and goals between the three business units—Mohawk, Unilin and Daltile. Last March, the firm set a range of corporate goals for 2020, including 25% energy, water, greenhouse gas and waste-to-landfill reductions. 

 

Copyright 2010 Floor Focus 


Related Topics:Interface, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Mannington Mills, The Dixie Group, Daltile, Carpet and Rug Institute, Beaulieu International Group, Mohawk Industries, RD Weis, Karastan, Masland Carpets & Rugs