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Smarter Carpet Initiative improves recycling at Penn State

Boxes of carpet and carpet tiles to recycle.
Boxes of carpet and carpet tiles to recycle.
July 22, 2015

With an estimated 480 acres of carpet covering Penn State’s 24 campuses, the Smarter Carpet Initiative provides a valuable service: keeping old carpet out of landfills through cost-effective recycling efforts.

A cooperative effort involving the Penn State Office of Physical Plant (OPP), Procurement Services, Housing and Food Services, Lion Surplus, Penn State's Sustainability Institute and the Smeal College of Business, the initiative recently implemented a new standard for carpet purchasing, installation, and removal: a standard that increases carpet sustainability and minimizes carpet disposal in landfills. The project has already seen results on Penn State campuses at University Park, Altoona, Berks, Erie, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre.

Penn State currently purchases approximately 45,000 square yards of new carpet per year for an estimated $ 1,250,000. Project efforts, however, have resulted in plans to reduce purchasing costs by 3 to 5 percent.

Since 2010, Auxiliary & Business Services Associate Vice President Gail Hurley and OPP Assistant Vice President Steve Maruszewski have co-sponsored the Smarter Carpet Initiative. The initiative supports Penn State’s commitment to sustainable business practices and educating students about sustainability, according to Erik Foley, managing director of the Sustainability Institute.

Student research has provided valuable contributions to the initiative. Under course instruction by Terry Harrison, professor of supply chain and information systems, MBA students in the Smeal College of Business developed standards for carpet manufacturing, a total cost of ownership tool, and a financial model to better determine cost-efficient carpet recycling methods.

The student research found that the total cost of carpet ownership is 60 percent maintenance, considering factors such as installation and carpet cleaning. Students also identified environmental and social impact issues in carpet manufacturing.

Most carpet is made from oil derivatives in an energy-intensive process that uses millions of gallons of water for yarn dyeing. With these dynamics in mind, Penn State now purchases carpet produced with no water while aiming to partner with manufacturers who can generate carpet with high percentages of recycled content and a reduced reliance on oil.

“Not only does this help to solve environmental impacts of how Penn State uses and disposes of carpet, but it also provides a template for how we can move forward in many other areas,” Harrison says of the MBA students’ research findings.

Penn State currently has contracts with three vendors for carpet purchasing– Interface, Shaw, and Tandus–that meet the project’s sustainability standards. Rich Fitzgerald, senior purchasing agent in Procurement Services, says an important project focus is working with vendors that will continue supplying carpet on campus while making the project cost effective.

Project team members hope to extend Penn State’s carpet recycling efforts in the future to surrounding residential and commercial properties in State College, and help pave the way for other universities looking to do the same.

“The real vision and opportunity is to take what we learned and apply it to everything that Penn State purchases, and at the same time provide learning opportunities to Penn State students,” Foley says.

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