More than 100 Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) members, stakeholders and carpet industry professionals recently gathered in Indianapolis for three days of industry updates, organization planning and networking at CARE’s 15th Annual Conference.

The group’s mission is to increase the diversion of carpet waste from landfills and the recycling of post-consumer carpet. Under the direction of Dr. Bob Peoples, executive director and a founding member of CARE, the organization has grown tremendously since its 2002 inception. “I joined CARE in January 2004 as the first official employee and executive director,” Peoples said. “I did this until March 2008 when I went to Washington, D.C., to head up the Green Chemistry Institute. I did that for five years and came back to CARE in September 2012. So we can officially say CARE lives its recycling mission—we even recycled the executive director.”

“CARE is fortunate to have Dr. Bob Peoples as its executive director,” noted Fred Williamson, executive vice president of Starnet. “Bob brings a wealth of scientific knowledge and credibility to CARE. He is well-known in the world of recycling (all product categories) and provides great leadership skills to our organization.”

According to Peoples, CARE faced its fair share of challenges in the beginning stages. “When we started, we were challenged with building a brand-new industry in the U.S. There was a limited amount of recycling taking place, but no equipment, few products, no ID technology, etc.” CARE’s accomplishments since then include assisting with the creation of equipment designed for post-consumer carpet, the development of the Voluntary Product Stewardship (VPS) Program and the diversion of more than 3.6 billion pounds of carpet from landfills.

Peoples reminded conference attendees that although the organization has made a lot of progress, the work of CARE has really just begun. “Keep in mind we just started this journey; 15 years is not a long time. It is a challenging time, but also an exciting time, because if you look at where we were when we started and where we are today, we have made a lot of progress. We have [also] had a lot of bumps in the road—a major recession that set us back severely.”

He reported that national gross carpet collections were down 6% in 2016 to 488 million pounds diverted from landfills. Low oil prices are expected to continue, and subsidy gaps between virgin and recycled materials are large. Four recyclers suspended operations in the last year. National collections continue to go down most likely because there are fewer collectors and sorters available, and the trend may continue without massive subsidies.

Of all post-consumer carpet (PPC), 33% is recycled into engineered resins (72%), carpet backing (8%), carpet fiber (3%) and other (18%). Regions of the U.S. are varied in the success of their collection efforts. According to preliminary results from the 2016 CARE National Survey, the southeastern United States leads with 35% of collections, followed by California (29%), the Southwest (19%), Midwest (18%), Northeast (6%) and Northwest (2%).

According to Peoples, innovative products from leading manufacturers are changing the composition of carpet and making it easier to recycle in the future, including Mohawk’s Airo, Shaw’s Lifeguard and Stainmaster’s Livewell.

While these advancements are worth celebrating, Peoples reminded attendees that there is still a long road ahead. “If we could wave a magic wand and every square yard of carpet that’s sold was 100% recyclable, we are still looking at 20 to 30 years of the old stuff coming out,” Peoples said. “That’s the journey we are on; that’s the marathon we are [running].”

With the cost of nylon higher than polyester, polyester is projected to make up 62% of global fibers by 2030, and nylon is projected to decline to less than 5% by that same year, according to Alasdair Carmichael, president of PFCI Fibres.“There are more steps from oil to nylon then there are from oil to polyester, and every step has its own cost structure.”

Awards and future outlook

Honored as the 2016 CARE Recycler of the Year, Interface was recognized for making recycling and sustainability a priority for more than a decade. Peoples credited Interface as being the first manufacturer to implement a process for the clean separation of carpet fiber from backing on modular carpet tiles. Since the start of its ReEntry process in 1995, the company has reclaimed more than 309 million pounds of carpet.

Richard Kruse, owner of Indianapolis-based Kruse Carpet Recycling Services and CARE board member, was named 2016 Person of the Year. Kruse Carpet Recycling receives, sorts and processes post-consumer carpet. An instrumental member of CARE, both Brendan McSheehy—chair of CARE’s board—and Peoples spoke of the vision, insight and wisdom Kruse continues to bring to CARE and the carpet recycling industry. “CARE is in my heart, and recycling is in my soul,” Kruse said.

Remaining optimistic about CARE’s future, Peoples noted that “CARE is a well-run organization and after multiple years of clear financial audits, we have excellent internal controls in place. Both the California and VPS program are complex programs due to the number of participants, and the large amount of data that must be submitted and analyzed to ensure accuracy as well as veracity in reporting. We conduct reviews called Agreed Upon Procedures (AUPs) to verify and validate submissions. It all adds up to a great deal of work, built on a foundation of knowledge, experience and expertise.”

In the immediate future, Peoples said CARE will be resubmitting its five-year Carpet Stewardship Plan to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). “We have begun weekly calls with CalRecycle to ensure we are addressing expectations. We are updating the CA Council on Carpet Recycling and seeking feedback on the new plan under development. While all this occurs, CARE will continue to run the current program under the extended plan which CalRecycle has agreed to. I expect this to be the operational plan through the end of 2017, since once a new plan is submitted, CalRecycle must go through a 60-day public comment period and we will hear the results in late December on approval of a new plan.”