Clinton Squires

The world’s largest designer and maker of carpet tile, Interface, will develop a new carpet recycling plant at its Sydney manufacturing facility.

Since the mid-2000s, the company has been taking back old Interface carpet under its ReEntry recycling program, and sending it to its sister factories in America for reprocessing as part of a bid to close the loop on the use of non-renewable raw materials and fuel. However, the company has now announced that it has embarked on a $1.4 million project to reprocess old carpet domestically, at its Minto facility.

Speaking to The Fifth Estate, Interface’s manager of sustainability and lean, Aidan Mullen, said: “When we initially set up ReEntry, we were taking back the carpet that we put on the Australian market and sending it to our parents’ facility in Georgia, USA.

“But, as out market share increased, we thought that the best thing to do both environmentally and economically would be to reprocess the carpet at our facility in Sydney.”

Mr Mullen, a trained chemical engineer, has been in control of the R&D process development with the engineering department since 2011 and will see the project through.

“There’s lots of technology out there and the trick is finding and sourcing the technology that we can use readily off-the-shelf, or modify to suit our aims,” he said. “I’ve tested equipment in Europe, Japan and the US, and we’ve got what we think is the best solution for our process.”

Once used carpet is returned to the company under the ReEntry program, it will be checked using near-infrared technology to identify the yarn, which – if nylon or nylon 66 – can be recycled (carpet that is made of other materials will be cleaned and resold, where possible).

The technology will then break the carpet down into its constituent parts, with the nylon 6 or nylon 66 yarn sent back to suppliers to make new yarn and the backing material sent to one of the company’s sister facilities overseas to be used in new carpet backing.

It is expected that the technology will be able to process between 500 and 600 tonnes of carpet a year once it comes online in “early 2016”, however this can be increased, if needed.

The second stage of the project, which will involve reprocessing the backing at the Minto facility, is expected to be up and running in “mid 2017”.

“Rather than just being about recycling, our program is really about taking back what we put out and being accountable for it,” Mr Mullen said.

“One of the main points of our Mission Zero sustainability plan is to ensure that we are diverting any waste away from landfill. So bringing it back into the process itself is even better, as it keeps the material in the loop.”

Australian chief executive Clinton Squires said the technology would provide an “Australian solution for what is an Australian problem”.

“Mission Zero gives our leadership the mandate to find the capital that will deliver savings in the mid and longer term,” he said. “It forces us to look beyond a quarter’s results – years beyond even. It’s liberating in a way – giving us the freedom to invest in projects like this ReEntry upgrade.

“There’s also a marketing return – our customers increasingly demand this sort of real product stewardship. The market is trending towards the expectation that recycling is not an aspiration but the norm. The time is coming when manufacturers will simply be unable to afford the waste of not recycling. What’s more, even your recycling programs will need to be lean and efficient.”

It is hoped that, once proven successful in Australia, the technology will be rolled out to Interface’s sister companies in Asia.

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