climbs the recycling rate charts
Carpet padding or carpet cushion
represents one of the most efficient closed-loop recycling efforts
in the nation. Recycled carpet padding now accounts for 80 percent
of all carpet padding sold in the U.S., and over 50 percent of
all discarded padding is recycled for use in new pad.
The actual carpet, however, is
another story entirely. In 2002, almost 4.7 billion pounds of
carpet were discarded in the U.S. Carpet usually accounts for
over 2 percent of all municipal waste by volume. According to
industry estimates, only 3.8 percent of the total discarded carpet
Shaw Industries Inc. is doing
its part to help remedy the situation. A privately held subsidiary
of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Shaw has been
working with engineers from Siemens Building Technology to create
a new power plant. The plant would be fueled by the 16,000 tons
of waste carpets and 6,000 tons of sawdust (from wood flooring)
produced each year.
The plant itself costs upwards
of $10 million, but Shaw predicts that it will save $2.5 million
annually. Those savings would be derived from recovering the funds
that would have been spent on traditional fuel to run one of the
main factories. According to Gary Nichols, Shaw’s corporate
energy manager, a pound of carpet has nearly the same energy potential
as an equal amount of coal. Environmentally speaking, the plant
will emit about as much pollution as it would by utilizing natural
The plant works by feeding carpet
scraps through a massive shredder. From the shredder, the scraps
are sent to a gassifier, which converts the scraps into a synthetic
gas. The gas is filtered through two pollution-control processes,
only after which it is sent to the factory where it will be burned
to fuel the production of new carpet.
J&J Industries, one of Shaw’s
competitors, has been watching Shaw’s progress closely.
According to Howard Elder, J&J’s research director,
“Everybody is watching and we’ve been looking for
years to find a way to convert waste carpet that makes sense.”
He also says, however, that companies
will only follow suit if it makes economic sense. Given the rising
cost of energy, it would seem that the plant is a sound investment.