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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2006 : Case Study

Case Study

Reducing the Load
Shaw Industries is blazing green trails, making plans to open a facility designed to increase the recycling of used carpet - and decrease the landfill burden.

special to green@work

The fact that more than four billion pounds of used carpet goes to landfills annually in the United States has driven Dr. Pete Booth for 28 years to find a solution. Booth had an ambitious vision that is now becoming a reality at Shaw Industries, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of both carpet and solution-dyed nylon. That reality is called Evergreen.

In 2003, Shaw adopted a seven-point environmental vision that defines sustainability as its destination, and Cradle to Cradle as its path. Cradle to Cradle products can be broken down and circulated again and again, made and remade using the same materials. Booth, a PhD. in polymer chemistry and a 28-year veteran of polymer chemistry and recycling, was instrumental in realizing this commitment for the fiber division of the company.

Through Booth’s efforts, passion and dedication, Shaw Industries will operate a facility for circulating nylon 6 as a “technical nutrient,” meaning it will continually circulate as a pure and valuable material within a closed-loop industrial cycle. Shaw’s acquisition of Honeywell Nylon fiber operations and its Nylon Recycling Plant in Augusta, Ga., was the first step. From there, Booth was charged with assessing Evergreen’s environmental and economic viability, as well as ensuring a safe reopening process that incorporates the latest technology and management practices.

As Shaw Fibers’ material development leader, Booth commenced reopen planning in October 2005, executing a complete audit of the plant. The team is analyzing every major component of Evergreen, checking hundreds of pumps and combing through thousands of valves. Every motor, pressure and temperature gauge is being tested, communications and computer system inspected, and miles and miles of wire and piping scanned. Thanks to this dedicated team led by Booth, an environmental-centric vision and Shaw’s operational excellence, the Evergreen plant is expected to be recycling carpet products as early as the first half of 2007.

Reopening the world’s only large-scale post-consumer nylon carpet recycling facility and keeping it operational is no small task. As Booth and his team analyze and update the physical plant, Russ DeLozier, Shaw’s collection manager, and his team are also working with a network of nationwide collecting organizations to collect, separate and bale used carpet that would otherwise end up in a landfill. To date, the team has established several relationships with active suppliers and is adding more to this total each month. The relationships have resulted in the collection generation of several million pounds of recovered nylon 6 carpet. As collection programs are established, Shaw’s current distribution and transportation networks will be utilized to haul used carpet back to the Augusta facility.

In its first year, Booth expects Evergreen to process millions of pounds of post-consumer nylon 6 carpet. What’s more, Evergreen has the ability to save the energy equivalent of 16 million gallons of gasoline annually compared to virgin nylon production, and will reduce the amount of virgin crude oil used to make Shaw Eco Solution Q® premium branded nylon.

Of the carpet suitable for Evergreen, Booth and his team will begin the process of creating a sustainable, high-performance nylon by collecting bales of used nylon 6 carpet for the closed-loop recycling process. In the first phase, used carpet will be fed into shredders and then into equipment that melts the carpet. The melted material is then moved to processing vessels and, through Evergreen’s advanced technology, converted into virgin-grade caprolactam, the building block of nylon 6. The freshly renewed caprolactam is manufactured into nylon 6 resin for the production of Shaw’s Eco Solution Q nylon fiber, thereby closing the loop and providing a product that is truly Cradle to Cradle. This process is defined as “closed-loop recycling” because nylon 6 can be depolymerized and repolymerized without losing any performance characteristics.

The impact of Shaw’s efforts will have a tremendous influence on recycling organizations such as the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), the largest voluntary joint industry-government recycling effort designed to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of post-consumer carpet and reduction of waste carpet going to landfills. The collection of waste and the regeneration of virgin-grade caprolactam by the Evergreen facility will continually reduce the burden to landfill, allowing CARE to achieve its goals at a much swifter pace than was expected. Booth and his team are working closely with CARE representatives, and constantly improving processes to ensure the continued success of landfill diversion. In addition, the impact of Shaw’s work among residential and building industries will be significant because this is the first recycling program of its kind offered to these groups. As Evergreen’s throughput increases, costs associated with recycling will begin to diminish, making Evergreen a less-expensive alternative to landfilling.

American landfills are burdened with almost five billion pounds of carpet waste every year. Recognizing the need for environmental options to reduce this issue, Shaw Industries, through its recent acquisition, has identified an opportunity to reduce and eventually eliminate this landfill burden through its Evergreen Nylon Recycling Plant. Booth and his team continue to forge ahead preparing for Evergreen’s opening in 2007 while furthering Shaw’s closed-loop, Cradle to Cradle philosophy. The work Booth and his Shaw teams put into the Evergreen plant will continue to position Shaw as a perennial leader in environmental programs, and will help set the bar for future environmental programs in the carpet industry and across the country.

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