(Rocky Mountain News) – July 9, 2008 -- To the decision-makers at Denver International Airport, it might have seemed a simple enough request.
None of the 75,000 yards of carpet to be ripped up and replaced in the main terminal and two concourses this year could end up in a landfill.
But as it turns out, the carpet industry is not as "green" as the fabric that will cover Concourse A in coming months.
Tanner DeJonge, project manager for ReSource Colorado, learned firsthand why millions of tons of carpet find their way into U.S. landfills each year. It took weeks of research, and some begging, for DeJonge to find homes for the three different types of carpet he was charged with removing at DIA, he said.
"There were some dark nights," DeJonge said. "Times when I thought, 'I know this can be done, I just need to figure out how.' "
Plans to replace gray carpet - some of it as new as five years old - throughout the airport with vibrant colors have been in place for years but were sped up when Denver was chosen for the Democratic National Convention, said Thomas Vickery, project manager for airport consultant DMJM. Carpet in the main terminal and Concourse C will be replaced by the time delegates arrive.
"We worked to get as much renovation done prior to (the) DNC to have DIA stand out to the delegates and everyone coming in," Vickery said.
The grayish-blue carpet that once covered Terminal C was replaced with a patterned, bright-red material while workers installed new moving walkways. Most of the old carpet is now back at its original manufacturer and will be used as backing for new carpet.
Once carpet in Concourse A is removed starting in September, another manufacturer will take back 10,000 yards of it and strip off the nylon string to reuse it. Flights will not be affected by the work, which is slated to be completed by November, and workers will take August off to accommodate DNC travelers, Vickery said. Long-term plans call for turning Concourse B blue.
DeJonge was forced to look outside the carpet world to find a use for the 40,000 yards of gray, rubber-backed carpet that covered the main terminal and the rest of Concourse A. A cement plant in Missouri will burn the carpet to generate electricity.
The only catch: DIA must pay about $6,000 to ship the more than 11 tons of carpet to Missouri, said John Stanfield, president of ReSource Colorado. That doesn't seem like lot for a $3.3 million project, he said, but shipping costs alone are enough for many clients to toss old carpet in the nearest landfill.
"Everybody is thinking green - it's the new buzzword," Stanfield said. "People want to do it, but not if it's going to cost them anything."
Stanfield's experience is common across the country, especially in areas far from a carpet-reclamation facility, said Fred Williamson, a board member of nonprofit group Carpet America Recovery Effort.
Williamson credits clients such as DIA for pushing the commercial-carpet industry to find new uses for old carpet, which is 90 percent petroleum-based. Last year, industry leaders came up with a standard - National Flooring Standard 1-40 - that will act as an "organic" label on products to better inform consumers.
In five years, CARE estimates it helped divert 1 billion pounds of carpet from landfills. But that's only a fraction of the 5 billion pounds entering landfills yearly, Williamson said.
"We're nowhere near where we want to be," he said. "But it shows we're moving in the right direction."
All 75,000 yards, or 315,000 pounds, of carpet being stripped out and replaced in DIA will be reused. Here's where it's going:
- 40,000 yards of carpet covering the main terminal and most of Concourse A will go to a Lafarge cement plant in Sugar Creek, Mo., to be burned to create electricity. DIA will pay for the shipping.
- 10,000 yards of carpet in Concourse A will go back to its original manufacturer, Bentley Mills, in LaGrange, Ga., to be stripped. The nylon top will be converted back to thread to be used again, and the backing will be burned. Bentley will pay half the shipping.
- 25,000 yards of carpet in Concourse C will go back to its original manufacturer, C&A, in Dalton, Ga., to be used as backing for new carpet. C&A paid for the shipping.