While wellness remains top of mind given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some flooring manufacturers also are combatting another health concern—the mounting consequences of our warming planet. Action to reduce carpet waste, four billion pounds of which end up in landfills each year, is imperative as product demand rises, especially on the heels of the Carpet & Rug Institute’s recent announcement to suspend a $4 million voluntary product stewardship program. The program incentivized and subsidized recycling efforts for flooring manufacturers in states outside of California, which has its own carpet stewardship program, bolstering collection efforts for residential PET carpet, but with little oversight.
Unlike California, where carpet mills are required by law to recycle 24 percent of carpet discarded this year, CRI’s voluntary program lacked mandated actionable goals and metrics when it came to establishing recycling initiatives. But clear rules combined with subsidies may be the push companies need to reevaluate and take sustainability into their own hands—and budgets. After all, take-back programs are not created equally, cautions Mikhail Davis, director of technical sustainability at Interface, the leading manufacturer of sustainable flooring. “It’s not enough for a brand to create a take-back program… They need to establish a reuse program and, ultimately, invest in technology to turn the old into the new,” he said, referencing Interface’s decades-old ReEntry™ product take-back program. ReEntry, born from the ethos of Interface founder Ray Anderson, enables the design team to create new products from old materials, given years spent refining processes and technologies.
While taking back old carpet is one step, it’s as vital to put that material to use when creating new products. Currently, only 10 percent of post-consumer carpet is collected with less than 5 percent recycled and at that, most recycling programs incinerate product to create energy rather than reusing the material. “We have to have some assurance that the raw material is going to come in regularly and at a high enough quantity to build a manufacturing process around it,” Davis said. It's also imperative that manufacturers invest in technology to make recycled materials competitive with virgin plastics in terms of cost and production time.
Rare in the LVT category, Interface ensures all LVT is comprised of a least 39 percent pre-consumer recycled content, starting with its Brushed Lines LVT collection, which launched in February. "When we entered the resilient landscape with our first LVT products in 2017, we made a commitment to bring our sustainability knowledge and experience to this flooring category," said Lisa King, VP of marketing and innovation for Interface. "This innovation to bring pre-consumer recycled content to our LVT offerings is just one of many product actions we are taking as we pursue our goal of becoming a carbon negative enterprise by 2040." Ultimately, Interface aims to eliminate the use of virgin materials with recycled and bio-based materials.
As companies, universities, and organizations across the globe seek to reduce their carbon footprint and improve human health and the health of our planet, purchasing better flooring offers a definitive path forward. Pennsylvania State University recently finalized a five-year carpet tile purchasing contract, agreeing to work exclusively with manufacturers that have a proven track record of sustainability efforts, including in-house recycling programs, ability to monitor emissions, and ethical working conditions. As other organizations follow suit, it's clear that stepping up recycling efforts and establishing clear metrics to track product reuse and material waste not only benefits our health and the health of the planet—it's also smart business.