By Werner Braun
The Carpet and Rug Institute
To date, the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) has kept more than 2.7 billion pounds of waste carpet out of landfills since the organization was founded in 2002.
And it’s not only out of the landfills. Today, almost 30 percent of recycled carpet goes back into carpet itself.
That’s reason to celebrate in my book.
And that’s what we did this past week in Tampa, Fla., when the CARE board and CARE members came together for our annual conference.
Conferences come and conferences go, but I was struck this time by how effective the “inter-session” networking seemed to be.
Bob Peoples, executive director of CARE, allowed ample time for networking opportunities throughout the conference, giving every person there the chance to stand up and talk about what they do, what challenges they’ve faced and what opportunities they foresee.
That’s the beauty of how this process works. Through the exchange of concerns and ideas, solutions for many of our greatest recycling challenges often materialize.
In a roundabout way, that’s how CARE got its start — as a solution to a problem. The CARE organization evolved as a means of diverting carpet wastes from landfills while creating new consumer products for the marketplace.
Just over a decade ago, there was virtually no carpet-to-carpet recycling, and landfills across the nation were piling up with carpet waste. CARE was established to provide a means for recycling and reclaiming carpet and its byproducts in a kind of “win-win” situation. Innovative entrepreneurs could establish new businesses that our free market economy could support. And in the process, the environmental impact of discarded carpet in our landfills was greatly reduced.
Last year alone, more than 351 million pounds of post-consumer carpet was diverted from U.S. landfills, up 5 percent from 2011. And CARE has increased its membership to more than 450 members across the nation, each membership representing a stage in the supply chain: collectors, sorters, processors, converters and end-product users.
When those collectors, sorters and end-product users get together, as they did last week, they find solutions to all sorts of problems.
I’ll give you an example. About seven or eight years ago, we had come up with a way to recover and recycle Nylon 6, but we hadn’t come up with a solution to reuse Nylon 6,6 — a byproduct of this reclamation process.
So across the country, Nylon 6,6 began accumulating in warehouses. There was some concern about how we were going to use it and how we were going to deal with the growing “inventory” of this product.
Then, all of a sudden, some innovative people came up with a solution. A solution that resulted in a good business model for them. That solution was to produce a product for automotive applications for under hood parts. In fact, Bob is proud to tell people there are 2 square yards of post-consumer carpet under the hood of every Ford F-150 pickup truck and that’s just one example. Now we don’t see piles of Nylon 6,6 in warehouses across our land because we have found a use for it. Plain and simple.
We’re now in a similar situation with the polyester that comes from our polyester carpet. It’s a bit harder to collect, so we’re beginning to pile up a great deal of it. Consequently, there has been some concern about how we’re going to extract enough of the raw material from it for the reclamation process to be profitable or useful. While it will take some time to develop, we heard at least two new opportunities on the horizon and both ideas came from entrepreneurs at the meeting.
Through networking opportunities like the one we had last week, I have a feeling that all will be well. As an eternal optimist, I believe that if you have good people “working the problem,” the right solutions will be found and new opportunities for growth and profit will emerge.
And in a few years, my guess is that we will wonder why we were concerned at all.
Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.