Textile and fiber waste recycler Leigh Fibers Inc. has set up a separate firm to recycle as much as 50 million pounds of carpet annually.
We've been ramping up to do this and developing the right proc- esses to recycle carpeting for three years now, said George Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing, in a recent phone interview. We have learned the type of equipment that we need to do this, particularly to separate out calcium carbonate, an abrasive typically found in carpet backing.
Leigh Carpet & Plastics Recycling LLC, which was officially established as its own company in October, operates inside Leigh Fibers' 1 million-square-foot facility in Wellford, S.C. Some management will overlap, Martin said.
The firm is recycling nylon 6, nylon 6/6, polypropylene and polyester, which are the most common carpet fibers. Martin did not disclose the current level of carpet recycling.
We have got to ramp up to capacity, he said. That part takes awhile because people have to figure out how to use it. The recycled carpet fiber is a copolymer rather than a single polymer and companies must modify their equipment to use it.
But Martin said Leigh can help molders and compounders process the recycled material.
We know how to mix non-woven fibers and carpet to get mixed properties, he said.
Leigh also can separate nylon face fibers from PP carpet backing, sort the resins by type and turn densify the fibers into products ready for molders to use.
The key is the properties we can create, Martin said. Any time we have a customer with an appetite for properties, we can make a material that meets their need.
Martin said the underlying green movement and rising virgin material prices are combining to create the right climate for more carpet recycling. Prices for virgin materials are going through the roof, he said. Companies will have to go to post-consumer waste.
We are working with a lot of people because they know recycled fibers will give them a huge advantage if they can make it work, and they want to do more molding with [recycled fibers] from the dirtiest materials possible, Martin said.
Many companies want to get into using this stuff and need a partner with significant size to complete the loop, he said. We can do that.
Our goal is to reduce the nearly 3.5 million pounds of post-consumer carpet waste that goes into landfills each year, while giving customers the high-quality materials they need to mold new products, Martin said. We expect the reprocessing of plastics and carpet to play a significant role in Leigh's future growth.
Currently, Martin said, There seems to be plenty of supply. But he added that long term, more collection will be needed.
We are not recycling as much [carpet] material as we can [as nation]. We need to get a more solid collection infrastructure.
Privately owned Leigh Fibers, founded in Boston in 1922, can recycle more than 350 million pounds of material annually at its Wellford plant, and 65 million pounds at its plant in Montreal. It imports and exports materials to more than 25 countries.