January 14, 2020

New Carpet Recycling Legislation in California Ripples Through Industry

California—known for its winding coastline and laid-back vibes–often is at the forefront of environmental movements large and small, from becoming the first state to require carpet manufacturers to implement a recycling program to igniting nationwide clean-eating trends. Last fall, California Governor Gavin Newsom pushed the state’s environmental initiatives one step further, signing into law AB 729—an amendment to existing legislation meant to improve the state’s carpet stewardship program, with the goal of having manufacturers recycle 24 percent of carpet this year.  

Essentially, AB 729 would shift control of the state’s carpet stewardship program away from the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE)—a private, industry-led group—enabling the state to reclaim more than $15 million in collected consumer fees and put them to good use. In appointing a new administrator for the program, the state aims to ensure that consumer fees are better used to improve carpet waste collection and recycling initiatives. In the past, CARE received several citations for failing to meet the state’s recycling requirements despite collecting consumer fees, Waste 360 reports.  

For many carpet manufacturers, the law demands major shifts in business operations to meet new recycling targets—as well as penalties, including hefty fines, if companies fail to abide—creating a point of tension in the industry. But some flooring entities are better positioned to meet state goals than others, such as Interface, the leading producer of sustainable flooring. Not only is Interface equipped to meet the new recycling targets, especially given its well-established ReEntry product take-back program, the company actively sought them out by lobbying for an earlier version of the carpet recycling bill (AB 115) several years ago. The reason? As demand for carpet climbs, its carbon footprint does, too. Nearly four billion pounds of carpet end up in landfills each year, and only 14 percent of post-consumer carpet is collected with less than 5 percent recycled, Interface notes. Even at that, most recycling programs incinerate product to create fuel, emitting carbon into the atmosphere in the process, rather than reusing the material. Change is paramount. 

Photography courtesy of Interface. 

“This isn’t a new initiative for us; we’ve been stewards of the environment for more than 20 years and sustainability is at the heart of our closed-loop design and manufacturing processes,” Jay Gould, CEO of Interface, said in an earlier news account. “Low petroleum prices have deterred recycling efforts, making a law like this imperative to advancing a circular economy. This law encourages us and others within the industry to continue innovating new means of production that continuously reduce our impact on the environment.”

While Interface has long been a leader in reducing carbon emissions at every stage of a product’s lifecycle, now the company also ensures its line of luxury vinyl tile is made of at least 39 percent pre-consumer recycled content, starting with its Brushed Lines LVT collection, which launched in February. Initially, Interface produced its LVT line using virgin PVC since the material is free of ortho-phthalate plasticizers, heavy metal ingredients, added formaldehyde, and any other ingredients that could contaminate our recycling system, but the company aims to take back enough carpet tile and LVT through its ReEntry recycling program to eliminate virgin materials completely.

Photography courtesy of Interface. 

As companies, universities, and organizations across the globe aim to reduce their carbon footprint and improve human health, and the health of our planet, sustainable 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 companies follow suit, it’s clear stepping up recycling efforts and finding creative ways to reuse product and material waste isn’t just the law (in California, at least)—it’s also smart business. 

Recent DesignWire