July 26, 2013

Werner Braun: Meeting shows they CARE

— I’ve been in the carpet and rug business for a long while now, and I continue to be impressed by the good work being undertaken by CARE, the Carpet America Recovery Effort.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with CARE, the organization advances the use of market-based solutions to increase landfill diversion and the recycling of post-consumer carpet. In doing so, CARE encourages entrepreneurship and sustainability of nature’s resources.

Last week, CARE’s quarterly board meeting took place in Dalton, where it meets about half the time, and board members approved a number of actions, all of which should have a positive impact on the organization’s mission as a whole.

One action undertaken by the CARE board involves the recovery and recycling of carpet made from PET, or polyethylene terephthalate.

The back story here is that carpets made from PET, which is recycled from plastic bottles, have both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is cost. Producing carpet using PET is very cost efficient. And those carpets are made from a product that is being reused — another plus — and one that fits in with CARE’s mission.

But being able to recycle this type of carpet once it leaves the consumer’s home is much more difficult than recycling carpet made from nylon and some other fibers. And to date, we have not identified enough markets or applications for the use of recycled PET.

That is why the CARE board has approved hiring a consultant to assist in finding additional markets and new applications for the recovery and recycling of PET carpet. We aim to do better on this score, and believe that hiring a consultant who will focus on the opportunities already identified will help us solve this challenge.

The board also took action on a situation that occurs across the country, but we’re focusing on “solving it” first in New Jersey, with our New Jersey Curbside Initiative. In the Garden State, as in many other locations across the country, residents can put many types of materials on their curbsides to be taken to the landfill — and that includes used carpet.

Because CARE’s mission is to divert as much carpet from the landfill as possible and to recycle it for other uses, it goes against the grain to “kick” these valuable “raw materials” to the curb. And time is of the essence here. Once the carpet becomes wet, it becomes almost impossible to process that discarded product.

So we are starting a pilot project in about three municipalities in New Jersey where used carpet is taken to a collection center where those discarded materials can be turned into products that will be reprocessed and reused in the marketplace.

If this program is successful, you can bet that we will be introducing it in other cities and towns across the U.S. For us, this is yet another way the free enterprise system can take care of a “problem” without legislated mandates.

Other important actions revolved around California law AB 2398. This law actually mandates the recycling of post-consumer carpet. As you can imagine, there is a great deal of oversight involved in managing the recycling of discarded carpet in a state as large as California, and it’s much more than CARE’s staff of two can undertake on their own. So CARE will begin the process of hiring someone in California to facilitate the diversion and recycling of post-consumer carpet.

California AB 2398 also mandates that for every square yard of carpet sold, a 5-cent fee is added to the cost. That fee is remitted to a third party accounting firm. The money collected is used to incentivize the landfill diversion and recycling of carpet in California.

Until recently, those incentives have been paid to processors who were processing primarily nylon carpet. But there is a growing amount of PET carpet in the marketplace. So the CARE board has recommended that we start paying an incentive for the diversion of PET carpets, separate from the funding to divert other types of carpets.

We’re also planning to make some changes to the CARE website, www.carpetrecovery.org,  which contains so much information that it often requires as many as five or six clicks to get to the information being sought by our members and consumers. This happened to us on our CRI site (www.carpet-rug.org) a few years ago, so we did an extensive overhaul to create a better navigation system on the site, reducing the number of clicks down to, typically, a maximum of three. We plan to make similar navigational changes to www.carpetrecovery.org.

These are the most important actions, and I think they’re worthy of praise. Of course there were other items of note on the agenda, including the upcoming CARE 11th Annual Entrepreneur Meeting on Oct. 23 in Atlanta, where CARE members will have the opportunity to network and share what’s new in this business, and to welcome potential entrepreneurs who are considering starting a carpet recovery-related business.

And the 12th Annual CARE Conference has been scheduled for May 6-9, 2014, at the Seattle Renaissance Hotel. While that event is a while away, I look forward to seeing what innovations our CARE business partners will have come up with by then.

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