11 Aug When the Carpet Meets the Curb
John Hughes doesn’t need to watch Green Master’s Natural Interiors® TV presentation this week. He could have written the script. He has been thinking about the health of the planet for a long time. And he is getting a little frustrated.
Hughes, president and owner of O’Briens Carpet One Floor & Home in Colorado Springs, Co., has installed solar panels to reduce the energy needed to run his business. He recycles the wood he tears out when replacing a customer’s floor in addition to all of the rebond carpet pad he replaces. He has tried, repeatedly, to have a successful program for recycling his carpet tear-outs, too.
He started baling all of his used carpet about seven years ago when one of the first carpet-recycling facilities opened. He was not defeated when that facility closed. Major companies, including Shaw and Mohawk, began announcing recycling programs. A needed collector – the middleman who sorts materials before sending them to recyclers – had opened in Denver. All Hughes had to do, or so he thought, was ship his bales there.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is great,’ ” he recalls. “But lo and behold, they went out of business.”
National carpet-recycling effort tries to step up
Though Hughes’ carpet recycling has been curbed, carpet recycling efforts by CARE (Carpet America Recovery Effort) members across the United States diverted more than 311 million pounds — 5.3 percent of the estimated total of discarded, post-consumer carpet — from landfills in 2009. That’s an increase of 19 million pounds over 2008. Still, members of CARE say efforts need to increase, particularly in public education and in attracting entrepreneurs with sound business plans to the recycling industry.
The average person does not know how to recycle carpet. We see discarded carpet on curbs in our neighborhoods every trash collection day. And building a successful recycling business, which has been a problem in Colorado and other areas, requires a unique person who has built relationships with customers of post-consumer carpet, says Georgina Sikorski, executive director of CARE – a joint industry-government effort to divert carpet from landfills that began in 2002.
“Some are going to be more successful than others,” she says. “It’s not an easy business to get into. There’s a lot of volatility.”
There currently are 74 carpet recycling collectors that can be located by clicking the U.S. map at www.carpetrecovery.org.
Hughes looked beyond his state when the Denver collector closed. Next, he began sending his used carpet to St. Paul, MN. But after two or three trucks, that collector’s carpet recycling source shut down.
“I continued baling it while I looked for another sorter,” Hughes says. “But then I got a call from the city. It seems I now had an eyesore (of carpet bales) on my property.”
One of the partners in the Denver collection company that closed has recently opened a new collection company, Colorado Recycling Services in Englewood, Co. Don Johnson, president, says his carpet recycling work is mostly aimed at commercial carpeting because of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rules that require used carpeting to go to a recycling company. Johnson’s company charges 14 cents a pound to receive carpet. That’s in addition to the freight costs for getting the carpet there, and it can add up to something that is too costly for the average residential flooring dealer transporting truckloads, he says.
More incentives and uses for recycling are needed
While CARE’s Sikorski points out that residential carpet is usually more plush and desirable for recycling, Johnson says his state government ought to be doing more, perhaps by increasing landfill tip fees, to offset costs of recycling for individual residents and residential retailers. Also lacking, Johnson says, is information sharing and a unified approach that could strengthen the recycling industry nationally.
“There’s a lot of secrecy among collectors,” he says. “We’re all chomping for the same steak.”
When Hughes was sending truckloads of carpet to a collector, he tried to keep the cost in line with what he would spend having it hauled to the landfill, but the environmental benefits were his main motivation. Realistically, he says, there is not a lot of help or incentive for a flooring dealer, particularly a small one.
“It’s a costly situation for a dealer,” he says.
Hughes is thinking about calling Johnson. But what he would really like is for one of the carpet manufacturers who recycle to give him an infrared spectrometer, a tool that detects what type of fiber the carpet is made of, so he can sort it and send it directly to the place that recycles that fiber.
If we get a response to that request, we’ll update this story.
Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com