January 16, 2014

Werner Braun: ‘Leeding’ the charge in carpet recycling

— A recent article on BuildingGreen.com has pointed out something we in this business have known for a good while: carpet companies are “excelling in the field” of EPR, or extended producer responsibility.

EPR laws mandate that manufacturers of a product are to be held responsible for that product for its entire life cycle, especially at the end stage which typically involves recycling and/or final disposal. The goal of this law is to hold manufacturers responsible for the disposal of sometimes hazardous materials (which of course, carpet isn’t).

Most of the 76 EPR laws in the United States pertain to electronic-type or mechanical products, according to the Product Stewardship Institute, which cites 23 laws for manufacturers of electronics, 14 for manufacturers of auto switches and 10 for manufacturers of thermostats.

But California, one of our greenest states, has mandated its own EPR law for end-of-life carpet. That law is called the California Carpet Stewardship Bill and it went into effect in July 2010. Basically, that law mandates that all California carpet manufacturers are responsible for developing a carpet recycling plan to increase the percentage of post-consumer carpet diverted from the landfill.

As BuildingGreen.com points out, this actually makes carpet the building product sector’s “strongest adopter of the take-back programs to date.”

That’s an accomplishment that we at the Carpet and Rug Institute can take pride in.

Take-back programs work in various ways. Many carpet manufacturers, for example, reclaim flooring and then “re-manufacture” it into the same product yet again. This, in effect, “closes the loop” by diverting waste from landfills while providing raw materials for those manufacturers.

And this “leeds,” pardon the pun, to other advantages as well.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program actually gives credit for products that have EPR programs, and that designation is certainly desirable in the marketplace.

LEED is a building certification process that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to enhance environmental awareness among designers and builders by encouraging them to create energy-efficient, water-conserving buildings.

LEED uses a point system to rate a building’s environmental stewardship, and buildings that are LEED certified will be classified as having silver, gold or platinum status.

And part of the reason for carpet’s success may be that most carpet is still pretty valuable even at its end stage. Reclaiming and recycling carpet just makes sense.

Since 2002, when the industry first started keeping count, CRI member manufacturers, working with dedicated entrepreneur recyclers all over the country, have diverted more than 2.6 billion pounds of post-consumer carpet from landfills in the United States.

Over time, other building material manufacturers will certainly follow suit. For now, we’re pleased to be once again on the cutting edge of the new green frontier.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.