CARE is operating under increasingly ambitious goals for carpet recycling, making it more complicated to capture and recycle as much carpet as feasible. Residential carpeting makes up about 70% of all the carpet discarded in California, and up until now it has accounted for almost all of the carpet that was recycled. Residential carpet has more high-value face fiber and similar backing across product lines, so recyclers focused on residential as the “low hanging fruit” that gave the most value with less effort. Commercial broadloom and carpet tile make up about 30% of discarded carpet in California. Yet because of its wide range of composition and less face fiber, most commercial carpet collected was not being recycled until recently.
A CARE grant allowed Circular Polymers, already a major force in carpet recycling in the state, to move into the commercial carpet recycling space. The CARE grant funded the purchase of U.S.-made machinery that allowed the company to accept commercial carpet and carpet tile for recycling – including traditionally hard-to-recycle polyurethane-backed tile – starting in 2021.
Location: Lincoln, CA
Grant Amount and Match: CARE grants $700,000; Circular Polymers invested ~$500,000.
Total Cost of Project: $1.2 million
Project Timeline: 2020-2021
“We are grateful for CARE’s support not just financially, but as an engine for collaboration in the industry.” Nick Fiore, President, Circular Polymers
It took about six months for the new machinery to be delivered and set up. Circular Polymers was then able to process the 10% of carpet that they had been collecting but unable to use, as well as intentionally collecting and processing more commercial carpet and carpet tile.
The initial challenge was the effort and sweat equity needed to design and install custom systems to process commercial carpet, which is made up of a wide range of dissimilar materials.
In the process, Circular Polymers identified that a significant amount of commercial carpet was comprised of hard-to-recycle mixed fiber carpet and included ten to 15 different backing systems. This led the company to focus on creating a cipher for discerning the different backing types and to build an outlet system for all of them.
Once everything was in place and demand for the end product established, the ongoing challenge was to maintain a flow of feedstock: to collect enough tear-out carpet to maintain the process. Circular Polymers is conducting outreach to commercial contractors to educate them that their tear-out could be recycled.
Project Benefits and Outcomes
The grant opened up a difficult-to-reach sector of used carpet for easier and more convenient recycling. Circular Polymers has recycled approximately 600,000 pounds of additional carpet monthly in 2022 for recycling since the grant was awarded in 2021; Circular Polymers’ output increased by 27% in Q1-2 of 2022 over the same period in 2021.
In addition, the company separates some carpet from the recycling stream that can still be used and funnels it to reuse outlets. The recycled commercial carpet material is reprocessed into products for the automotive, office equipment and building markets.
This is one of a series of case studies that illustrate the impact and logistics of grant funding on the carpet recycling industry in California.