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Environmental Stewardship

The carpet industry reduces landfill waste and aids in the development of responsible products.

Recycling UpdateATI Special Report Environmental Stewardship The carpet industry reduces landfill waste and aids in the development of responsible products.  The carpet industry is doing more than just covering floors. Manufacturers, committed to improving both the indoor and outdoor environments through ongoing stewardship initiatives, are determined they will truly make a difference for the future. Initiatives include producing responsible products; improving manufacturing efficiency via environmentally responsible practices; and reducing, reusing or recycling industrial waste and post-consumer carpet.Responsible products are a major focus of the industry. Even though carpet is already a relatively low-emitting product as indoor products go, carpet manufacturers responded aggressively to requests for low-emitting products in the indoor environment. In the early 1990s, the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) initiated emission- testing programs for carpet, and followed them with programs to incorporate testing of carpet-cushion and floor-covering adhesives. This means that, currently, the entire carpet system can be purchased with the CRI Indoor Air Quality Testing Program label ensuring that all components are low-emitting. Since the mid-1990s, the carpet industry has continued to reduce emission levels as technology has allowed. Minimizing WasteAs in most responsible industries, carpet manufacturers and raw-materials producers are minimizing the quantities of natural and energy resources used. First, they are striving to minimize the amount of waste generated and then are finding ways to economically reuse and recycle raw materials, packaging materials, waste and by-products.  

Although more efficient manufacturing is reducing excess carpet waste, such as selvages, trimmings and shearings, the industry has found creative uses for a major amount of the waste and cut down drastically the amount of materials going to landfills. To begin with, most companies are arranging for vendors to assist by reducing packaging of raw materials and shipping products in returnable containers.Mills have found a variety of economically feasible reuses of internal waste, including: Waste carpet trimmings, backing and yarn often are sold to recycling plants to be processed into such products as carpet cushion, furniture battings and cushions, concrete filler, fence posts, road underlayment, parking stops, plastic lumber and automotive parts. Waste polypropylene carpet backing is sold for use as geotextiles for soil retention and sod reinforcement, reused to wrap carpet rolls and recovered for re-extrusion into other molded or extruded items. Polyethylene packaging, used to wrap carpet rolls and to package yarn, is recovered for use in new plastic wrap or plastic trash bags, or it is used in molded items. Other materials used in the manufacturing process, such as cardboard, paper, aluminum, wooden pallets, fuel drums, batteries, yarn cones, roll cones, liquid containers, raw-material packaging and scrap metal, are either reused or recycled. Making A DifferenceIndividual companies have goals to eliminate as much as 80 percent of waste to landfills during the next few years. An example is Dalton, Ga.-based J and J Industries, which began in the fall of 1992 with a Green Committee made up of 22 employees to target trouble spots and reduce the amount of solid waste to the local landfill by 25 percent. The committee found that the main types of waste included yarn, carpet, cardboard rolls, stretch wrap, wooden pallets, scrap metal, architect sample folders and aluminum cans, most of which are reusable or recyclable. The committee quantified the materials and formed a plan to reuse materials whenever possible and to recycle appropriate materials. Sheared-off nylon, a by-product of cut-pile carpet production, could be collected and recycled into other goods. Wooden pallets could be reused, and polypropylene cones and strapping could be collected for recycling. Throughout the plant, solutions were found for reuse.  
In only two years, J and J Industries has been successful in reducing landfill waste, such as cut-pile carpet, by 55 percent. The result of J and Js commitment was a reduction in landfill use by an amazing 55 percent in just two years 832,000 pounds of materials not going to the landfill. As time and effort increased, J and J was awarded first place in the 1996 Keep America Beautiful National Awards in the Business/Professional Organizations Division for its 80.9-percent reduction in solid waste since November 1992. By 1997, so much progress had been made that the Green Committee was disbanded and the company focus turned to a process of total environmental stewardship. Reducing the total environmental impact or the footprint, while improving the companys performance, is now the focus. Dr. Howard Elder, director of research and environmental affairs, states that the program encompasses much more than just solid waste. It also includes minimization of raw materials, energy (electrical and fossil fuels), chemicals and water. We reduce our impact by reducing all the inputs and also all the outputs, said Elder. We theoretically want no interaction with our surroundings, but, of course, this is not possible if we want to stay in business. We must produce a product, and this requires a minimal level of inputs. On the output side, J and J is concerned with air emissions, loss of energy, landfill waste, and storm and industrial waste water. In aqueous discharges, the company is concerned with both quantity and quality of pollutants. One of the first things we learned as we studied our environmental impact came as a surprise to us, continued Elder. The largest single source of pollution was the methanol in the adhesive that we had made for glueing our carpet to the floor. The adhesive was reformulated with no methanol, the old adhesive dropped and about 20,000 pounds per year of methanol emissions avoided. J and J has reduced emissions further by working on other chemicals farther down the priority list on the Draft Prioritized Chemical List published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Zero Landfill WasteMillikenandCompany, Spartanburg, S.C., has been very successful in cutting its waste output by more than 90 percent. In 1999, the company celebrated zero waste to landfill by three plants, probably the first carpet manufacturer to reach this goal. This is a wonderful gift to the communities in which we operate, said Richard Dillard, director of public affairs. Milliken starts at the beginning of each product by following a precycling program that emphasizes designing products to minimize waste and maximize materials, with a strong commitment to recycling and reusable products. Milliken recycles its dye mixes and grinds carpet and carpet backings to recycle them into new carpet tiles. The company has moved from an overall 47 percent of its solid waste going to landfill in 1989 to only 1 percent in 1999, Dillard continued. The company also has cut water usage by approximately half since 1991, recycled 100 percent of office paper since 1992 and decreased the use of Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) chemicals by 99 percent since 1988. Because of these and other efforts, Milliken was awarded South Carolinas Best Industry Recycling Award in 1999 and the U. S. General Services Administrations first Evergreen Award in 1998. Waste Not, Want NotShaw Industries, Dalton, Ga., found a unique way to use waste fiber in the formation of the concrete used to build its 120,000 square-foot research and development center in Dalton in the walls, foundation, sidewalks, driveways and curbs. It worked with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta to obtain the proper proportions and used more than 40,000 pounds of recycled polypropylene fiber, which was added directly into the concrete in the mixing truck. Studies at Georgia Tech indicated that shredded carpet waste fiber is very effective in improving the toughness and shrinkage properties of concrete and allows the concrete to be held longer before pouring. Further testing, evaluation and long-term monitoring of the response to heavy truck traffic loads shows that the concrete is functioning very well. In a study, Georgia Techs School of Textile and Fiber Engineering estimates that a one-mile, four-lane highway may use about 100,000 pounds of carpet waste for concrete reinforcement. Besides reducing the need for landfilling, the use of low-cost waste fiber for concrete reinforcement could lead to improved infrastructure with better durability and reliability. 
Another project at Shaw Industries is the production of a synthetic cushion for padding underlay under carpet. The cushion producer developed another use for the padding, in which a 36-inch width of cushion is rolled into a roll 24 feet in diameter, to be used in place of hay bales on construction sites. Several states use this cushion as a preferable product because it does not disintegrate and can be reused time and time again. Even when dirty, it can be unrolled, washed and reused. Road crews are finding it especially functional on pipeline and for guards on gutters to keep silt out of the systems.Dalton, Ga.-based Beaulieu of America has found a unique use for hard waste edge trims and scrap carpet. One hundred percent of its hard waste is going into fiber pad marketed under the EcoPad label. This fiber pad is a benefit for use under Berber carpet, where extra support is often desired. Currently, up to 30 million pounds of hard waste that would otherwise go to local landfills is being utilized in the program. Carl Bouckaert, chairman and CEO of Beaulieu, states that his company intends to remove all their internal waste from local landfills as soon as possible.Several fiber companies, including DuPont, Wellman and Evergreen, are working with Ford and other automobile manufacturers to provide carpet, post-industrial and post-consumer carpet for under-hood and extruded plastic automotive parts, such as air-cleaner housings and fan shrouds. Responsible ProductsThe aforementioned projects are but a few of the efforts going on in the carpet industry that are helping mill operations to become truly sustainable. Industrial waste is finding its way into a multitude of products used within the industry and also as components that enhance other products and industries. The major task ahead of the carpet industry is to find economically feasible ways to get post-consumer carpet sorted, transported and reused in new carpet and other products. To date, there are excellent pilot projects that are showing promise the future looks bright for reusing and recycling carpet products.  For additional information on environmental issues affecting the carpet industry, contact Kathryn Sellers, director of public relations, Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), at (800) 882-8846 or www.carpet-rug.com.

February 2001