PET recycling turns waste to market-based solutions

Summer 2016

By Ken Ryan

Several companies are at work to find aftermarket solutions for PET and keep the polyester carpets out of landfills.
Several companies are at work to find aftermarket solutions for PET and keep the polyester carpets out of landfills.

Since the economic downturn, the use of polyester has grown dramatically as has the challenge of finding viable market-based solutions for this post-consumer PET. However, the recent Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE) conference in Greenville, S.C., proved progress toward an aftermarket solution for the polymer is being made.

At one time the processing of post-consumer PET had to be “pure,” meaning all calcium carbonate and polypropelene had to be taken out beforehand. New technology advances have allowed so- called “dirty” PET to be processed, reducing the overall cost of the process. “These technologies are potential breakthroughs because they utilize minimally processed PET carpet,” said Frank Endrenyi, advisor to CARE and a polymer consultant.

Several companies showed off their latest tests and innovations at the CARE event. In illustration, Richmond, Va.-based Verdex Technologies has developed a process for the direct conversion of post-consumer PET carpet into non-woven products containing nano/micro fibers. Such end-use products include medical gowns, house wraps and baby diapers.

The company, founded by Larry Marshall — an engineer who once worked on the Saturn 5 space program — has completed two trials he said have shown great promise. In addition, the University of Connecticut’s School of Engineering and the Institute of Materials Science received a grant from CARE to develop particle- boards for commercial use. The boards comprise 20% post-consumer PET and are dimensionally stable to use in construction. Dr. Brian Brady, a professor at the UConn School of Engineering, noted the product is also fire retardant and formaldehyde free. Engineers are currently working on sound-dampening properties.

North Coast Fibers demonstrated a carpet disassembling process in which ash can be removed by gravity from PET rather than requiring additional down- stream ash removal systems. The process saves capital, energy and maintenance costs, according to Joseph Bork, founder.

Two CARE companies were also cited for their recycling efforts during the conference. Aquafil — named Vendor of the Year — was recognized for its reclamation of post-consumer carpet as a first step in the Econyl Regeneration System that creates recycled nylon 6 fibers from post-consumer carpet in a continuous production cycle. Aquafil’s process transforms the nylon 6 back into raw material without any loss of quality.

Similarly, Rocky Ponders and Robert Goldberg from Columbia Recycling were named CARE Persons of the Year. They led the company’s growth into the development of melt-filtered pellets for the com- pounding industry and the production of carpet cushion manufacturing using recycled carpet components. As a result, Columbia has diverted significant amounts of carpet from landfills through innovations in process technology, equipment design and product development.

Since 2002, CARE has diverted more than 4 billion pounds of carpet from landfills in the U.S., promoting the use and development of products containing materials derived from carpet. Members include carpet recyclers, manufacturers, retailers and non-governmental entities.

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