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Interface steps up carpet recycling

The manufacturer wants a larger supply of reclaimed materials for its special tile backings.

Over the past two decades, commercial carpet maker Interface has become so efficient at recycling that its factories are hungry for a larger supply of old, modular tiles being discarded in construction and renovation projects.

Rather than building its own resources to collect more, however, Interface is partnering with a network of regional suppliers that will gather carpet on its behalf. Its first alliance is with an Oakland, California-based company called Rethink Green, which to date has recycled more than 10,000 tons of carpet since it was founded in 2011.

"Over the past decade, we’ve been keeping our eye out for potential allies who are also dialing up the reclamation of specifically carpet tile, and who are as passionate as we are about closing the loop on materials," said Interface President and CEO John Wells. "Rethink Green aligns well with both our vision and our mission."

Consider that over the past 20 years, Interface has diverted more 309 million pounds, or 154,000 tons, of carpet from landfills as it works toward its Zero Mission goal of making all its products from 100 percent recycled or renewable materials by 2020. Interface figures that its new relationship with Rethink Green will increase the amount of carpet recycled annually for its carpets by 40 to 50 percent.

The big advantage of this approach: logistics. "They know the right people," said Eric Nelson, vice president of strategic alliances for Interface, referring to the many sources that could yield old carpet. "Dealing with commercial interiors is difficult. Sometimes it’s an installer, sometimes it’s a contractor, sometimes it’s a [demolition] guy."

Under the relationship, Rethink Green will coordinate pickups of carpet tiles by collaborating with general contractors, developers and flooring retailers that are coordinating replacement installations. Its territory covers California, along with states such as Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Washington where there is still appreciable activity in commercial construction.

Rethink Green was founded by 30-year-old entrepreneur Carter Hallock, who picked carpet because of its substantial negative impact. According to some estimates, about 4.5 billion pounds are sent to landfills annually — making it one of the leading contributors to commercial waste. At peak production, Rethink collects upwards of 1,000 tons monthly, Hallock said. Some of his clients recycle with an eye toward earning credits toward a LEED certification, while others are simply seeking a more responsible disposal strategy.

Closing the carpet loop

Interface uses recycled materials in the backing of its carpet tiles. The material is called GlasBac, and it’s made of ground up components of old tile backings. (About 98 percent of the content is recycled.) One big service that Rethink Green will provide is separation before the material is sent to Interface’s factory in Lagrange, Georgia. "We thought, ‘They are so much better at collecting these, why not deputize them to do the separation?’" Nelson said.

The facing materials from discarded tiles are sent elsewhere to be used in other ways, which means Interface no longer will have to worry about handling that material.

In addition to saving time on separation, the relationship will ensure that Interface receives larger shipments of backing material. That will make planning production runs simpler, Nelson said.

Interface’s long-term vision is to wean itself completely from virgin materials, the dream of late founder and chairman Ray Anderson

Over time, Interface plans to choose additional regional partners, and Nelson is actively looking. His team will forge alliances based on the influence of collection organizations within high-growth markets. "We’ll go places where a lot of tile is being sold, which means lots are being ripped out," Nelson said. "There is going to be lots of desirable material in those places."

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