A recycling center in Santa Rosa. Photo credit: Carpet America Recovery Effort.

In summary

California’s recycling rate has dropped from 50 percent to 44 percent. The carpet recycling rate is one bright spot. The 2017 carpet recycling output rate increased by 27 percent over 2016 and is up 100 percent since the third quarter of 2015. Those increases show the program is working. CalRecycle should let the program continue to expand.

By Robert Peoples and Ron Greitzer

Robert Peoples, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Carpet America Recovery Effort, bpeoples@carpetrecovery.org. Ron Greitzer is President of Los Angeles Fiber in Vernon, salesinfo@lafiber.com. They wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

California has earned its reputation as a bold state, unafraid to introduce new programs. That’s what it has done with the California Carpet Stewardship Program, which focuses on increasing the diversion and recycling of carpet in the state.

The program has experienced notable success since its inception in 2011. More than 550 million pounds of carpet has been diverted from California landfills, and millions of dollars have been awarded in grants to support collection and new recycling product testing. California is building an emerging carpet recycling infrastructure.

The program is one reason why Los Angeles Fiber – one of the nation’s largest post-consumer carpet recycling businesses – has survived. By instituting the program through legislation, an industry stewardship program was created that provided necessary funding for the recycling industry.

And that is why CalRecycle, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, should approve an operational five-year stewardship plan it is considering at its Oct. 16 meeting.

The new stewardship plan is designed to expand and build on the carpet recycling program in California, as operated by Carpet America Recovery Effort, a nonprofit entity legally charged with the program’s management in partnership with the state and the carpet manufacturing industry.

Together, the state and the Carpet America Recovery Effort have developed and grown an emerging carpet recycling industry of installers, retailers, recyclers and product developers. This market needs stability and certainty.

Currently, the program is operating without a stewardship plan in place. That limits our ability to increase the program’s capacity.

Californians are subsidizing this program at 25 cents per square yard of new carpet purchased, and deserve to see the program build upon the existing model’s successes.

Additionally, the program was significantly amended with the signing of Assembly Bill 1158 in 2017, which requires a dramatic increase in the recycling rate by Jan. 1, 2020.

If CalRecycle fails to approve a new 5-year stewardship plan, we at the Carpet America Recovery Effort will be unable to carry out our mission and the carpet recycling program will stall. This is not a productive path forward for anyone.

There is another wrinkle: the current law states that businesses selling carpet in California without a recycling stewardship plan in place could face fines up to $10,000 per day.

CalRecycle has not yet chosen such action to date but the threat of such fines could disrupt the availability of carpet. Should carpet sales be disrupted, the funding for post-consumer carpet recycling will go away, as will tens of thousands of jobs in California.

The carpet recycling program hasn’t been without its challenges. It is grappling with China’s new National Sword policy of not purchasing material from the U.S. that could be recycled. That is forcing the recycling industry to turn to other countries to purchase California’s recyclables.

The state’s overall recycling rate has dropped from 50 percent to 44 percent.

The carpet recycling rate is one bright spot. The 2017 carpet recycling output rate increased by 27 percent over 2016 and is up 100 percent since the third quarter of 2015.

Those increases show the program is working.

The next step is to approve the new operation plan. That plan requires that the Carpet America Recovery Effort program aggressively work toward attaining the increased carpet recycling goal of 24 percent by 2020.

Recyclers, the carpet manufacturing industry and the Carpet America Recovery Effort are all at the table waiting to continue the partnership with CalRecycle. But we need the new stewardship plan.

California’s recycling efforts are often the unsung workhorses of the state’s environmental efforts. We should continue to find ways to work together to ensure they remain successful.

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