Closing The Loop For Carpeting

Closing The Loop For Carpeting

For more than 15 years Zeftron Nylon's 6ix Again program has collected and recycled waste commercial carpet, turning used nylon 6 - a type of nylon that is infinitely recyclable - into brand new nylon.

Richard Ranke, Zeftron's marketing specialist, spoke with GreenBiz Radio about Zeftron's Cradle-to-Cradle certification and how it's 6ix Again program helps find alternate uses for unwanted carpet.

Jonathan Bardelline: First off, could you tell me a bit about Zeftron Nylon and how it is a Cradle-to-Cradle product?

Richard Radke: I think the great thing about nylon 6 is that the Evergreen process really allows infinite opportunities for the recycling of nylon 6, and from a physical standpoint there's really no limit to the number of times nylon 6 can be recycled. Some recycling processes can produce a lesser quality product, but the Evergreen process really makes first quality nylon again and again. 

So our Zeftron Nylon really takes advantage of that and through our 6ix Again program is able to make first quality nylon again and again with no loss of performance or coloring possibilities either. I guess the Cradle-to-Cradle part really comes in, too, from the standpoint of, in laymen's terms, recycling nylon 6 can be likened to water being frozen into ice and then melted, frozen again, melted, frozen again, and you can do that again and again, and you don't have any loss of those physical properties of the water no matter how many times the operation is performed like that. 

And that's kind of what happens with our nylon 6 as well and specifically our Zeftron Nylon. You can do this process again and again, so it is true closed-loop recycling.

JB: And does the nylon 6 contain any recycled content?

RR: Recycled content - yes, it does. That is something - when you use the term Cradle-to-Cradle, MBDC - McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry - they've certified us, actually, and that is really our customers' assurance that the Zeftron Nylon is manufactured responsibly, but also that it contains the stated 25 percent recycled content. While it's possible there is some post-consumer content in Zeftron Nylon, the greater percentage is actually preconsumer waste at this point, but the waste that we get that from is generated in another industry, not just the carpet industry. 

And while that stuff would normally be landfilled, we use it and put it back into the carpet fiber again. The other thing I'd like to point out there really is that we really need everyone's help in getting carpet recycled so that we'll have that material to increase recycled content percentages like we'd like to do in the future.

JB: And that leads us into what I was going to ask you about the 6ix Again program for recycling carpets. Could you tell me a bit about that?

RR: Zeftron Nylon really has been a leader in sustainability for years, and one thing I think is interesting is that even when we initially produced our nylon products over 40 years ago, we incorporated recycling within that process, in the manufacturing process. So that experience - it really has allowed us to develop the 6ix Again program, and that was developed over 15 years ago. 6ix Again was designed really as an alternative to landfill disposal. 

The heart of the 6ix Again program is our service center. When you reach the service center you get expert help in determining what you can do with the carpet that you have on the floor, and that expert help is really as easy as pushing 11 numbers on your phone. It's 1-800-839-3233, and when you call that number you're gonna get a hold of a person that is really a facilitator who will inform you about the options that are available for your specific carpet that you have on the floor. 

It even will go to the extent of sending you a self-addressed envelope, postage-paid of course, and then that's available to mail back a sample so we can figure out what the carpet is that you have on the floor. And then if the carpet is nylon 6, it'll be eligible for the true closed-loop recycling program. If the carpet's nylon 6,6 downcycling or waste-to-energy could be a solution. And then as far as who gives carpet basically, who is eligible, it really is anyone. Anyone is eligible for the program.

And then, of course, pickup is determined by the service center, depending on the recycling option decided upon. And then since the 6ix Again program was designed as an alternative to landfilling carpet, as long as the replacement carpet is Zeftron, all carpet types are eligible.

JB: And can you take any carpeting from anywhere?

RR: As far as all over the country goes?

JB: Yes.

RR: Yes, one great thing that has expanded over the years - when we initially started this program, we had just very few collection points, and now there is around 50 collection points. So even - no matter where you are you're gonna be able to find one that's fairly close at least to be able to get the carpet to it. One other thing to point out there, and usually the cost involved in getting it to a collection point can really often be about the same as typical landfill disposal. 

When you're disposing of carpet, the end-user has to pay for that transportation of the used carpet to a landfill as well as a variety of disposal and tipping fees.

JB: And to get a little more detail into the 6ix Again program - so if a company wants to get rid of their carpet and you can take it, do they handle all the pulling the carpet up on their own and then they - who do they contact then to take it away?

RR: Good point. That's a good point. Actually, that's one of the things that I think the designer may end up having some responsibility for. We do have a three-part specification that we can provide to the specifier themselves, and it can go through some of these different issues, basically. But the thing to think about there, I guess, is the fact that the end-user is really the owner of the carpet that's coming up off the floor. 

Unless they participated in some other kind of program, they're gonna be the owner of that carpet, and what you do with that ends up being something that typically over the years has been something that the general contractor takes care of in just the typical demolition. In this program, what you're gonna do is before they take up the carpet you're gonna call the service center in our 6ix Again program, call the service center, they'll tell you what you can do with it, and if you need help in those different areas of take-up and then transportation and those kinds of things you'll be able to get that from the service center.

But typically the end-user is the one that's going to have to determine who's gonna take it up, and it probably still will end up being the GC, but they're gonna have to put it into either a special container or a truck that we can site for them if they want us to and then be taken off to the collection point.

JB: To go back for a minute, when you receive carpet, if it's not nylon 6, you said there are different options. What is the determining factor in whether something goes to waste-to-energy or to another option?

RR: Actually, it truly is the components that the carpet is made from. When a carpet is made from nylon 6, most likely it will be returned to the Evergreen Recycling Facility where it can be true closed-loop recycled into virgin grade nylon 6. Now, carpets with face yarns that are made with nylon 6,6 most likely will be recycled back into a - or downcycled is what will happen with them. They can be downcycled at least once, and they can be made into car parts, car part bumpers, park benches, those kinds of things, those kinds of materials. Usually, a lower value nylon product is what will be made with that.

And the only other thing then - when other carpets are returned containing the construction components that aren't easily recycled or backing materials that aren't easily recycled - those have to be disposed of probably by the waste-to-energy incineration format. 

JB: And over the years you've been doing this carpet recycling program, do you have an idea of what have been the results of it so far - how much carpet is going to the different end uses?

RR: No, we really have not been able to track that very easily. It's a very good question, and I appreciate it, but we have not been able to track it very easily. One of the things, though, I do know that Shaw's Evergreen Facility recycles 100 million pounds of carpet per year. And, of course, the criteria for getting it there is that it's nylon 6, so it's really difficult to determine how much of that figure is really due to say the 6ix Again program alone, or how much it's been diverted from some of the other types of recycling that is out there. 

But there are many carpets that return from the different manufacturers, and since the main criteria is that it's nylon 6, we haven't really been able to determine how much of that it goes into each of these different areas. I would say that a fair percentage is probably going into waste-to-energy, and since we've been using petroleum products to make energy for a long time it's not a bad option, but the more that goes back to Evergreen, obviously, the more that it's true closed-loop recycled and the more recycled content it will have in the long run, too, that we can put back into the carpet and increase that percentage in our Enviro6ix designate.

JB: And you've been doing the 6ix Again recycling program for how long?

RR: You know, like I say, for over 40 years we've been doing recycling in the manufacturing process, but because of that, back in about '93 or '94 - it was probably really conceived in '93, so it's been over 15 years - we started the process for which we were gonna put together this 6ix Again program.

JB: And when people participate in the 6ix Again carpet recycling program, if they have something other than nylon 6 do you do any education with them explaining how nylon 6 can be recycled over and over and other things can't be?

RR: At least the service center, when it comes into play, we've probably already had one of our nine representatives that cover the major cities, or me covering most of the nation, has probably already talked to somebody about the 6ix Again program, or some information has reached them either from our website or one of the other ways, even from an ad in the media. They've probably seen some information about the 6ix Again program, so they're gonna participate in it that way. 

So the service center probably would not do that, but I would say that it's very likely that one of our representatives has probably already talked to somebody about how the 6ix Again program works, and about how nylon 6 works, and about specifically the Zeftron Nylon product that they're specifying. One of the criteria that we have for participation in the 6ix Again program is that actually that you're putting down a carpet made from our Zeftron Nylon.

JB: I was trying to get an idea of what kind of outreach is there because a lot of these issues are just - it's an issue of educating people about what can be done with every little bit of things in the office: what can be recycled, what can't, and if you need to get rid of something is there a better choice.

RR: That's really what our role is as far as our mission with our representatives out in the field, is to work closely with our mill representatives who may have some recycling options themselves incorporated within their products, from backing materials to other things that they offer. But our people work closely with them to get the message out that there are different responsible ways of taking care of carpet. 

I think carpet's really been a leader in this whole sustainability type issue, and I think with some of the chemical properties that we have in our nylon 6, we've tried to take that role on, too, of being a leader in, with our 6ix Again program, with recycled content, and those kinds of things, because we are capable of doing that if people understand what's going on, and they take the responsible option to truly recycle the carpet.