published Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Shaw rolls out next-generation carpet reclamation program

Bins of recyclable carpet material are seen in the foreground while a baling machine for nonrecycleable carpet material is seen in the background at the Dalton-Whitfield Regional Solid Waste Management Authority.  It is the country's only municipal facility for recycling carpet, located south of Dalton, Ga., on Old Dixie Highway.
Bins of recyclable carpet material are seen in the foreground while a baling machine for nonrecycleable carpet material is seen in the background at the Dalton-Whitfield Regional Solid Waste Management Authority. It is the country's only municipal facility for recycling carpet, located south of Dalton, Ga., on Old Dixie Highway.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Shaw at a glance:

• 2011 revenue: $4.24 billion

• 2011 earnings: $120 million

• Workers at the end of 2011: 22,739

• Pounds of finished product in 2011: 1.96 billion

• Jobs created in 2011: 283

Source: Shaw Industries

Sustainability

• Since 2006, Shaw has reclaimed more than 500 million pounds of carpet

• More than half of Shaw's products are recyclable, including more than 80 percent of commercial products

• Shaw spent $9 million on emissions improvements in 2011

• Shaw recycles about one third, or 111.6 million pounds, of all the carpet recycled by all manufacturers, or about 333 million pounds.

Source: Shaw Sustainability Report

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Flooring giant Shaw Industries is working to bring its third carpet recycling plant up to full capacity, but there's still a long way to go, officials said Monday.

The idea is to make carpet with nontoxic materials, using less water and energy, and to recycle it into new carpet at the end of its useful life.

Currently, nearly 4 billion pounds of carpet is sent to a landfill each year, industry officials say.

The ultimate goal -- though a distant one -- is to set up enough collection points across the nation to recycle every roll of old carpet into new products.

Companies call it "Cradle to Cradle."

Right now, Shaw has 50 collection points set up across the nation, which the world's largest carpet manufacturer says are within a reasonable distance of about half of U.S. consumers.

That was enough to divert about 111.6 million pounds from landfills in 2011 out of the 3.8 billion pounds still finding its way to trash heaps, or about a third of all carpet reclaimed in the U.S.

According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort, the organization's members were able to divert a total of 333 million pounds of carpet from landfills in 2011. While that's down slightly from 2010, membership in the organization grew 17 percent, according to a news release.

Georgina Sikorski, executive director of CARE, said that despite lower demand for recycled carpet because of the weak economy, the group's members continued to expand their green efforts.

"The results were excellent in light of weaker demand for recycled material both internationally and within the U.S.," Sikorski said.

Lacking a federal government funding for much of its sustainability operations, Shaw and its fellow carpetmakers have instead made a business case for greening their companies, said Emma Williams, environmental communications manager for Shaw.

"We're throwing away oil-based material that has value either as energy or as a new product into the landfill," Williams said. "Ultimately, this is valuable material that could be reclaimed, reused or recycled back into new product."

Recycling old petroleum-based carpet saves Shaw from buying barrels of oil from overseas sheiks.

Shaw's 40 percent reduction in water usage since 2008 also money on the water bill.

And more efficient plants require less maintenance.

"It really does come back to a business case for continuous improvement," Williams said.

To that end, the company is touting three plants that recycle carpet back into nylon or burn the carpet to generate steam power for nearby plants.

The Evergreen plant in Augusta, Ga., has the capacity to recycle 100 million pounds of Nylon 6 carpet into fiber, while two plants in Dalton, Ga., convert non-recyclable carpet into steam power.

Shaw's newest, the Re2E plant in Dalton, will convert a projected 84 million pounds of carpet into about 50,000 pounds of steam per hour. That's enough to power 7,500 homes for a year.

The Re2E plant is the first to use pure carpet to generate all of its energy. Re2E's sister plant burns mix of 15.3 million pounds carpet and 17.6 million pounds of wood waste, said Greg Wimpy, director of manufacturing support for Shaw.

"We're trying to find the best use for post-consumer carpet," Wimpy said.

In creating the infrastructure to recycle carpet on its own, the carpet industry may be able to stay a step ahead of regulators, who in California have mandated a 5-cent per yard tax on carpet sold in the state.

That money funds the reclimation operations in California that carpetmakers have funded themselves elsewhere in the U.S.

"I wish there were government programs for this," Wimpy said. "We're trying to get carpet identified as a renewable fuel."

Though the company has invested more than $20 million in the Re2E plant alone, "it has had one of the worst paybacks of any project I've ever been apart of," he said.

But those growing pains are inevitable when engineers are creating new technology from scratch.

"You have to look at it as a larger pat of what we're trying to do here at Shaw Industries," Wimpy said.

That message comes from the top.

In a video shown Monday at a Chattanooga Engineers Club meeting, Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffett said he believes in preserving the planet for future generations.

"I'm really proud of Shaw for how they're thinking about this problem," said Buffett, whose firm owns 100 percent of Shaw Industries. "We only have one planet."

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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