November 15, 2013

Werner Braun: New duties for carpet lobbyist

— There are times when it’s really vital to have someone you know and trust overseeing all that’s going on within your own industry. So we at the Carpet and Rug Institute are truly delighted to have one of “our own,” so to speak, monitoring what’s going on in our industry on both state and federal levels.

Jennifer Mendez, vice president for government relations for CRI, is that someone. Jennifer lives in Alexandria, Va., and serves as a professional lobbyist for the carpet industry, spending about 80 percent of her work life on the road, traveling to wherever laws are being proposed that have an impact on the carpet industry.

But the really exciting news for us is that Jennifer has recently been selected as president of the Product Management Alliance (PMA). So she’s going to be “keeping an eye out for us” on an even bigger scale now.

For those who don’t know anything about the PMA, here’s a bit of the back story. The Product Management Alliance was formed a few years ago to address the concerns of many in the industry about the proliferation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation in several states across the country.

Basically what happened was that a trend began to develop in which certain states proposed legislation that would create mandates requiring manufacturers to take their products back at the end of that product’s life cycle.

There is, actually, a noble notion behind these mandates, as well-meaning legislators propose legislation in an attempt to reduce the amount of product waste going into landfills each year.

But one issue for us is our belief that all partners in the supply chain should share the responsibility for effectively managing a product throughout its life cycle, not just the manufacturers of the product. That unfair division of responsibility imposed by law on select manufacturers results in financial burdens for them, which in turn results in higher costs in goods and services for the consumer.

We at CRI have long believed that there’s a better way to deal with the end of a product’s life cycle than to create mandates to deal with it, and we’ve argued that the free enterprise system is the best vehicle to achieve that end for all concerned. And we’ve put our money where our mouths are.

Both the carpet industry and the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) have done an outstanding job of finding ways to reduce the amount of post-consumer carpet going into our nation’s landfills while supporting the free enterprise system at the same time.

We’ve done this through “incentivization.”

For more than a decade, CARE has encouraged the creation of new businesses that either reclaim post-consumer carpet, convert waste carpet into valuable raw materials, and/or to create new products from those new plastics or other materials.

Hundreds of new businesses have sprung up across the nation representing all links in the supply chain: collectors, sorters, processors, converters and end-product users, to name a few.

It’s something we can all feel good about. The carpet that has been diverted from our landfills has been turned into valuable raw materials to create a whole array of new products.

A good example is the “reuse” of Nylon 6,6 carpet to make injected-molded car parts. Almost all black engine parts are now made from plastics derived from post-consumer products like carpet. When I look under the hood of my car I feel a degree of satisfaction that our recycling efforts have really hit home.

To date, the efforts of these enterprising entrepreneurs who have established these new businesses across the country have resulted in the diversion of more than three billion pounds of carpet waste from our landfills. And that’s billion with a “b.”

That’s pretty impressive.

Equally impressive is the work of our new president of PMA, Jennifer Mendez. She works tirelessly for us, and she’ll be working even harder in her new position. One of her responsibilities will be to address product take-back mandate bills that we expect will be introduced in state legislative bodies.

She’ll have an even bigger role in educating legislators about the advantages of non-regulatory methods to deal with end-of-product life cycle issues. She will work diligently to show them that there is a more effective approach to dealing with these issues. It’s called the free enterprise system.

Congratulations, Jennifer. We look forward to working with you in your expanded capacity.

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