Rug makers proudly recycle.
Pre- and post-consumer recycling is a hot topic in the floor covering industry these days. Environmental issues that manufacturers are dealing with include clean air and water legislation that are imposing controls on manufacturing processes.
Kea Capel, creative services manager of Capel Inc., stressed that rug manufacturers are extremely responsible in their recycling efforts. "Historically, the industry uses and reuses its waste products," she said. For example, Capel recycles in excess of 10,000 pounds of yarn a day, either converting it back into reuseable yarn or selling it to converters.
The challenge for manufacturers is to produce high-quality recycled products at a competitive price. For retailers, the bottom line is still price, not the environment, manufacturers say. The trick is to develop recycling techniques that are at least cost-effective or in a best-case scenario, profitable for manufacturers, and priced well to retailers.
Recycling is a challenge that many manufacturers have embraced with enthusiasm. Within the rug industry, recycling techniques in both waste management and new product technology have become routine in recent years. Manufacturers involved in "green" technologies include:
* Sol Zwerling, vice president and general manager of Oriental Weavers of America, which produces machine-made polypropylene rugs, said that waste is recycled as much as possible, but methods for reprocessing, re-pelletizing and re-extruding polypropylene have not yet been satisfactorily developed. "Full recycling of polypropylene is definitely a part of the future, though," Zwerling emphasized.
* American Rug Craftsmen produces a line of multipurpose indoor/outdoor mats. The company's Environ-Mat is made of PET recycled polyester.
* The Rug-Hold Co. markets "Cushion Grip, " a rug underlay made from a needlepunched blend of polypropylene and nylon fiber which is then coated with rubber.
* Capel Inc. manufactures a chenille product made of thousands of pieces of odds and ends of fiber threads which are color-matched by hand and plied back into yarn. Through its Bob Timberlake Collection of braided, hooked and woven rugs, Capel is also an active participant in the Keep America Beautiful campaign. Keep America Beautiful, founded in 1953, is a national non-profit public education organization dedicated to improving waste handling practices in American communities.
"Because we position our product as one destined to be loved for generations, it is critical that we also take responsibility for safeguarding the environment for these future generations. If we insist on leaving our products behind, we must also insist upon a legacy of goodwill toward the world we leave behind," commented A. Leon Capel Jr., executive director of sales and marketing for Capel.
Often, soft waste is still in pure form, without latex, dyes or adhesives. It can become any number of products, including rug underlay. In some cases, the material can be replied into yarn and used all over again either as the soft core for braided rugs or for rugs themselves. Mill floors are swept constantly, as well. The sweepings are sold and immortalized as corrugated boxes or reinforcement for concrete walls. In recent years, scraps of polypropylene and polyester have been re-pelletized and reincarnated into totally different plastic-based products.
Ever wonder what happens when you recycle those big plastic soft drink bottles? They may be reborn as polyester area rugs and broadloom. They are made of a plastic called PET (polyethylene terephthalate). After they are collected, washed and re-pelletized, they are spun into yarns.
Wellman Inc., has been transforming PET bottles into polyester since 1980, and was a pioneer in developing methods of recycling bottles into yarn. Today, the company is considered to be the world's largest plastics recycler.
Wellman's polyester fiber is sold on both a branded (Fortrel [R] Ecospun [TM]) and unbranded basis to both the apparel and home finishings industries. Most Wellman yarns sold to the carpet and rug industry are unbranded. Wellman makes both 100 percent post-consumer recycled fiber and 35 percent pre-consumer/65 percent post-consumer recycled fiber.
Approximately 60 percent of Wellman's worldwide fiber production is made from virgin raw materials and 40 percent is made from recycled raw materials.
For some time, the company has annually recycled over one billion post-consumer PET bottles. The company's current U.S. capacity is approximately 1.1 billion pounds of resin and fiber. In June, the company reported a major expansion program which will increase Wellman's PET resin and fiber capacity to 1.8 billion pounds by the year 2000.
"Wellman's business (and its decision to utilize recycled raw materials) is primarily economically driven. However, economic is not the only driving force. Wellman also realizes that recycling has become the obvious key to decreasing the flow of plastics into rapidly diminishing landfills," a company spokesperson said.
Image Carpets, a vertically integrated floorcovering manufacturer which sells carpet for custom rugs to Dalyn and Columbine, has been recycling PET bottles into polyester carpet fiber since 1990. PET polyester yarns, marketed under such names as Wearlon and Resistron, are used in Image's Enviro-Tech line, retailing for $10.99 to $24.99 per square yard. Image has virtually doubled its PET fiber manufacturing capacity in the past year. The company currently extrudes approximately 100 million pounds per year.
"We believe there is a growing segment of the retail market which is sensitive to merchandising and marketing environmentally friendly products," commented Dewey French, vice president of sales and marketing for Image.
Shaw Industries, the giant worldwide producer of area rugs and broadloom, has broad-ranging ecological concerns centered on waste management and post-manufacturing recycling.
"We're creating a culture in which waste isn't viewed as trash. Instead, it is seen as a resource that can be turned into products Shaw or other companies can use," commented Robert Shaw, president.
Jack Buchanan, recycling coordinator for Shaw, said that the company's goal is to have zero percent manufacturing waste by 1996. That means nothing going to the landfill. "That goal is feasible," Buchanan stressed. In 1993, the company recycled over 78 percent of its waste, nearly double the amount recycled in 1990.
Buchanan stressed that the challenge facing all recycling efforts is to find a method to use and reuse materials in a fashion that makes good business sense as well as good environmental sense.
"We want to at least break even in the process," Buchanan noted. "Our first priority is to develop methods to recycle our own production waste. The next step is to expand the technology for our retail customers at the local level."
Shaw is currently involved in several projects. Leftover carpet fibers can be used as a secondary reinforcement for concrete. Currently, Law Engineering of Atlanta is working with Shaw on tests evaluating the properties of polypropylene and nylon carpet fiber in concrete.
Shaw's commitment in this area is not mere lip service. The concrete in the company's new research and development facility in Dalton, Ga., contains more than 40,000 pounds of post-consumer and post-industrial ground carpet waste.
In May of this year, the Carpet & Rug Institute formed an industrywide recyling committee to address issues involving reclamation and recycling of waste. The committee is made up of all facets of the floorcovering industry and also receives input from waste management and recycling companies, according to the CFJ.
The committee is working to resolve such techinical problems as creating a system that uniformly identifies an the complex components of modern floorcovering in order to facilitate recycling and reuse. It is also evaluating life cycle costs, viable collection systems and the development of alternate technology to facilitate recycling.
Indoor air quality has also become a consumer concern in recent years. As a result, The Carpet & Rug Institute has been active in developing a self-regulatory program for the industry. In late 1991, CRI completed a series of meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Lung Association, The Consumer Product Safety Commission and 19 other public interest groups. The result is a CRI Indoor Air Quality Carpet Testing Program, which ensures that floorcoverings carry the CRI IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) label have been tested and meet certain critera for low emission of specific volatile organic compounds.