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Part two of the CRUK Sustainability Conference: Making the world of flooring more sustainable

CFJ reports on the second of a three-part sustainability special regarding the CRUK conference in Solihull.

IN the previous issue, CFJ spoke about the highlights of the speaker presentations given throughout the day highlighting how each organisation is adapting to sustainability.

Day one of the conference finished with a panel discussion of guests from the supply chain to discuss the future of sustainability. The panel included Luca Bertamini of Aquafil, Ross Dight of Tarkett, Edmund Vankann of ECRA, Bob Peoples of CARE and Adnan Zeb-Khan of CRUK who hosted the discussion. Topics included whether the industry should be proactive or reactive towards EPR, Government legislations being developed in the flooring industry and collaboration with groups such as the Environmental Agency ensuring the industry needs to listen and learn from each other to create the best and most appropriate legislation. Standardisation and the complications of recycling were also mentioned in the discussion along with where they’d like the industry to be in 2030.

CRUK ran its annual UK Member Awards for Best Practice 2022, recognising companies and individuals who’re continuously going above and beyond to develop sustainable initiatives. The first award announced was a new one for the Circular Economy Initiative of the Year. Tarkett was presented with the winner’s trophy for its closed–loop product, made from 100% recycled material. Betap, Interfloor and Melrose were highly commended in this category.

The winner of the Reuse Member of the Year award went to Spruce Carpets. Highly commended awards went to Greenstream Flooring CIC, Envirocycle London and Melrose Interiors.
The Recycler of the Year award went to Melrose Interiors for its RELAY recycling programme which recovers consumers’ carpets and repurposes them into new products. Foleys Equestrian Surfaces, John Cotton Group and Tarkett were highly commended in this category.

MJ’s Event Services scooped the Take Back Partner of the Year award for its commitment to repurposing and recycling the COP26 flooring. Designer Contracts, Saint Flooring and Tarkett were highly commended award winners.

The Recycling Champion of the year went to Andy Murphy of Melrose Interiors for his continuous innovative work in the circular economy. The highly commended members were Lee Withers of Fineweave Carpets, David Heafey of Saint Flooring, Simon Westley of Designer Contracts and Hannah Jones of Interfloor.

A special Collaboration Award for landfill diversion of COP26 flooring went to the following companies – MJ’s Event Services, Designer Contracts, Spruce Carpets, Interfloor, Tarkett and Bonar Yarns.

Anjalee Ramjee, Circular Economy Consultant of Oakdene Hollins
Anjalee Ramjee is a circular

economy consultant, with four years of experience in the consultancy space. She holds an MPhil in engineering for sustainable development from the University of Cambridge and has an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. At Oakdene Hollins she specialises in sustainability visions and roadmaps for SMEs, bulky waste streams, value retention processes and packaging.

Presentation summary
Anjalee presented on the research and development projects for CRUK she has been involved in regarding sustainability. The first project consisted of researching the annual amount of textile flooring waste diverted from landfill; the second investigated existing and future technologies which could be applied to textile flooring and the challenges they’re currently facing; the third was a circular economy eco-design guide project which included design principles to be considered when developing new products to increase reuse and recycling rates.

Presentation excerpts
The landfill diversion rate has doubled over the last four years. In 2016, the rate of diversion was 35% and by 2020, 70% of diverted waste was recorded. Although 70% of textile flooring was diverted from landfill, a large amount of the material is lost through energy recovery and incineration outlets.

The traditional waste hierarchy puts emphasis on reuse and recycling as the most preferable end-of-life options which we need to keep working on together. Less preferable options include energy recovery (RDF and SRF), incineration, and landfill.

We’re losing values in materials, especially polypropylene where prices are currently increasing. With this in mind, we can retain materials through several strategies. One requires looking at how we can retain product value whilst another is investigating how we can retain material value. Examples of retaining product value include reuse and repair, whereas retaining material value relates to recycling and reprocessing. Reuse strategies involve retaining value at the end of the products’ usable life, while recycling involves retaining value at the end of the product life.

There are current barriers to retaining product value including dirt and contamination, design for single use, installation techniques and difficulty in repairing sections of various products. There are also current barriers to retaining material value which include multi-material products such as mineral fillers, types of binding material and types of backing material. Finally, current barriers related to logistic/take back schemes include high costs, heavy and bulky materials and the distribution of waste is high.

Increasing the recycling rate requires investment. Investment into technologies and partnerships with companies is key to ensuring an increase in textile flooring recycling rates, through the extraction of high-grade polymers. Material reclamation, mechanical recycling and chemical recycling are new types of technology that can extract materials such as Polyethylene, Polypropylene CaCO3, Polyamide 6 and Polypropylene.

Although investing in new technologies is important, we can also increase reuse and recycling processes through designing with sustainability in mind for future products.

Different eco-design techniques can be applied by the textile flooring industry which are divided into three circular economy strategies. The first one is known as the closing loop which consists of the reuse of material through recycling, including closed and open loop recycling. The second is known as slowing the loop. This process consists of prolonging the use and reuse of products over time including reuse, repair and refurbish. The third is known as narrowing the loop which reduces the amount of material used in products. This includes product lightweighting and design for multiple uses.

Dr Edmund VanKann,
Managing Director of European Carpet and Rug Association

Born 1958 in Aachen, Edmund studied technical and macro molecular chemistry at the RWTH Aachen. He holds a PHD in the polymer working group of Prof. Dr Hartwig Höcker DWI, German Wool Research Institute. Since 1998 he has been managing director of GUT e.V., Gemeinschaft umweltfreundlicher Teppichboden. Since 2017 he has been managing board member of ECRA, European Carpet and Rug Association. His main fields of activity and conjointly environmental strategies of the GUT and ECRA member companies: Indoor Air Quality, Carpet Recycling, Lifecycle Assessment, Ecological Product Design, and Collective Research.

Presentation summary
Dr Edmund spoke about the current sustainability issues the industry is facing. He spoke about the developments which have been made over the years to establish carpet recycling and highlights the changes that need to be made to create better recycling processes and make them more specific. He also discussed new developments which are taking place in the industry.

Presentation excerpts
GUT and ECRA member companies represent a production volume of more than 90% of the European textile floor coverings production and thus a share of the EU market of approximately 70%. The main areas of production are in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Our board members consist of CEOs of businesses within the flooring industry. This is interesting for us because we can discuss topics with decision makers in the industry which helps us progress with sustainable initiatives going forwards. We’re in close co-operation with our colleagues who’re producers of artificial grass because when it comes to recycling polypropylene and polyethylene for example, the recycling issues are identical so we can perhaps adopt some of their approaches to tackle the problem in the future.

The increase of C02 levels is because of the activity humans are creating. Regarding where we want to be in 2030 based on calculations made on 2018 data, if we want to keep the increase of temperature at 1.75 degrees and our C02 budget is for 8.2 billion tonnes, we have until 2028 to sort this issue.

Four weeks ago, our colleagues from the adhesives industry were celebrating their 25-year anniversary of the development of their VOC emissions label EMICODE. It took 25 years to standardise VOC emissions testing from construction products on a European level and the carpet sector played an active part in this journey with the GUT labelling scheme. With respect to climate change we don’t have 25 years to solve the problem. This means immediate action is requested.

Already in 1999 with the Recam project the first recycling strategies were discussed. The focus was on identification, collection, sorting, and mechanical treatment, which in the end only produced a recycled output of 5-6%. To change this, we must think about the final output material of recycling processes. Therefore, it’s important to integrate ‘design for recycling’ aspects in the development processes for new carpets.

If the authorities talk about carpets and investigate the statistics, they need to understand that solutions for rugs and runners will be different to those for wall-to-wall carpets when it comes to collection sorting and recycling options. A collection just in market waste is an issue because consumers will throw out car mats, door mats, and rugs into the same bin creating the situation where we don’t know anything about material combination and valuable raw materials will be contaminated by non-identifiable and separable materials.

Our efforts in carpet recycling need to focus on material combinations that could be easily separated into recyclable fractions that don’t contain contaminants and this could include other polymers. A solution is we keep the materials separated as early as possible and then we must think about different markets in different countries. 33% of carpet waste per sq m is polymer fibers. The rest are polymers from the backings and 55% is inorganic fillers. Our responsibility is to make carpets that can be recycled.

Joe Holland, Process Engineer, Axion Polymers
Joe graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. He has worked for Axion since 2019 on a variety of projects involving process development for Axion’s two plastics processing sites; and as part of consortiums on various funded projects such as ISOPREP, a Horizon 2020 project aimed at developing a solvent-based method for carpet recycling.

Presentation summary
Joe spoke about carpet recycling and the ISOPREP project Axion Polymers are taking part in. This is a recycling project related to the development of a chemical recycling method for polypropylene (PP).

Presentation excerpts
The project is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 research and innovation project comprising consortium members from five countries across Europe including Turkey, Portugal, Germany, Austria and UK. The project aim is to design a plant for the solvent-based recycling of waste carpet into virgin quality PP. It started in September 2018 and will come to an end this year.

The project is being managed by The Welding Institute (TWI) who’re based in Cambridge. Each member brings different expertise to the project.

Axion are recycling specialists, and have two process plants in Manchester and Salford that process end-of-life vehicles and waste electronics. Over 20 sortation and separation technologies are used to transform the shredder residue feedstock into reusable polymers such as PP and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene or ABS.

ISOPREP is a recycling process which combines mechanical sorting with chemical solvent-based recycling to maximise the effectiveness of the process and the quality of the final product. It’s focussed entirely on the recycling of waste carpet with the chemical recycling stage based on the use of a liquid which selectively dissolves PP. This removes additives, colourants, and fillers from the PP, which allows the product produced to be of virgin-quality.

The process is carried out in three steps consisting of pre-sorting, mechanical sorting, and solvent-based recycling. Waste carpet is pre-sorted to enrich the feedstock with polypropylene as far as possible, and mechanical sorting is used to size-reduce and remove contamination before entering the solvent-based recycling stage, which is the key benefit of the ISOPREP process.

The pre-sorting step is carried out by hand and removes materials that are known to not be useful feedstock for the downstream processing, including underlay, pillows, cushions, vinyl flooring and car mats. The material is then sent on for mechanical sorting, which consists of shredding, cleaning, and drying.

The chemical recycling step uses an environmentally friendly ionic liquid to dissolve the PP and separate it from dyes, additives, and other contaminants. This produces the fresh PP which is made into pellets and can be used for other products. Hopefully one day it will be able to go back to be reused as carpet.

The project has been operated on a laboratory scale, but a pilot plant will become operational soon.
Luca Bertamini, Customer Technical Service Head and Product Manager of Aquafil SPA
With a background as a material scientist, he has over 23 years’ experience at Aquafil in tailoring Aquafil Bulked Continuous Fibre yarn to fit a carpet producer’s needs. Passionate mountaineer and nature lover, he’s fully engaged in supporting Aquafil recycling activities, trying to provide guidelines to producers towards smart carpet designs and take back initiatives.

Presentation summary
Luca presented on the circular economy from Aquafil’s perspective, detailing the aspects of recycling post-consumer nylon6 waste for new textile flooring or other applications.

Presentation excerpts
We’re a global company consisting of 19 plants based in eight countries on three continents. We started in 1998 with our journey of recovering nylon6 waste to make techno polymers and developed nylon6 mechanical recycling. From 2007, we were able to move to the industrial level of new fiber extrusion, but we were learning at the same time all the limitations of mechanical recycling.

In 2011, we developed our nylon6 chemical regeneration technology. It’s regenerated nylon6, known as ECONYL, made from 100% recycled content and we keep the balance between 50% pre and 50% post-consumer. Chemical recycling allows nylon6 to be recycled continuously an infinite number of times. This means you don’t have to use new resources. The purpose behind ECONYL is to make the world a better place in the flooring industry because it’s a closed-loop product maximising sustainability.

We started our recycling experience with plastic and fishing nets. If you come to visit us and our plants, you’ll see a bit of everything in terms of material such as plastics, textile, bags, clothing and fishing nets. The recycling capacity was later expanded to the nylon6 end-of-use carpets. This became possible after the creation of dedicated shredding technology which we call ACR, that allows to mostly remove the glue and separate the PA6 fiber from the PP primary. Some glue is still bonded to the PA6 fiber. This glue contains some filler, normally calcium carbonate, that slows down the chemical depolymerisation process, therefore, making it more expensive.

Nylon6 adds value in several ways. The first one includes the full recovery of materials performance through chemical recycling which matches the targets of circular economy. The distillation process allows full removal of colours and impurities. Finally, the process is economically sustainable only under certain conditions.

Managing waste is not an easy job. It means accepting a variety of products and you must be ready for the unexpected. There are hidden costs of identification and sorting which need to be addressed. Unknown carpets are expensive to recycle owing to their unknown properties. Product passport means avoiding mixing through easy identification during carpet removal.

Educating installers and retailers about the value of their actions is important.

Excess inorganic filler inside the carpet makes reverse logistics also more complicated and expensive. It would be practical to find a way to remove the backing before exporting to the recycling facility to save CO2.

Jen Hill, Director of B&M Longworth (Edgworth) Ltd
Longworth is an innovation tech company with a 46-year history in proven, effective reclamation of value waste streams. In recent years their patented pressolysis technology ‘DEECOM’ has been increasingly applied to challenging textiles and has been found to recover reusable monomer, oligomer and polymer from post-industrial and EOL waste.

As an active member of BPF and a board director of Composites UK, Jen strongly feels that by pulling together, UK industry can onshore true recycling, optimise reuse, reduce disposal costs, and improve the UK’s efforts for Net Zero, all while leading on sustainability in carpets.

Presentation summary
Jen spoke about DEECOM, a pressure-based innovation of reclamation, recycling, and reuse of carpet waste using steam, and how it could be a game changer for the flooring industry.

Presentation excerpts
We’re innovation and tech engineering people who’re making solutions to problems. We’re a 46-year-old start-up in a brand new industry, and we’ve applied our existing established knowledge and technology known as DEECOM to carpet waste. We have our technologies in 19 countries worldwide and are very established in the plastics and polymer industries.

DEECOM is a technology so novel that the British Standards Institute has invited us onto the standards committee to write a classification for a new recycling method. This invention came from a place of environmentalism, to reduce if not eradicate the use of heavy grinding machinery, solvents and incineration.

It’s a pressolysis technology run primarily using pressure in a super-heated steam atmosphere, which means for years we’ve fought the opinion ‘oh you’re chemical recycling because you’re using a chemical formula’ but H2O is the most sustainable resource on this planet so it’s not chemical or solvolysis. We call it pressolysis: the reduction of material using pressure. The steam attacks the surface area of the organic material which creates a separation process. An example of this is removing resins from carbon fibre so it can be completely reused in its virgin form. We’re working with fashion textile companies to separate nylon from elastane, all achieved in a pressurised environment. One of our differentiators is that DEECOM separates materials. The way the steam and the pressure interact with the organic material, means that different polymers react with it at different points throughout the process. This means you can extract them at different times throughout the process. The process consists of depolymerisation, but we’ve now proven with the KTP that we’re reclaiming the monomers and oligomers.

DEECOM brings a step-change in the way we treat our waste. We want to stop transporting waste. Instead of feeding it into a skip, feed it into DEECOM so it’s processed on-site, back into usable materials. Once it’s processed then you can take the output material to be reused or sold down the supply chain.

Ideally recyclers will adopt this innovation. Output may need reprocessing but the minute it comes out of the DEECOM, it’s a material with value and reuse potential, so it’s no longer waste. In this case, we’re exporting more and essentially importing less because those materials and polymers have a reuse value, have been produced onshore and offer a huge benefit to manufacturers having supply issues.

Read more about what the CRUK annual conference unveiled next month, with more professionals sharing their ideas regarding environmental impact and thoughts on why sustainability conferences are important to the flooring industry.

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